By Nadia Kashoo, Asylum Welcome volunteer


Eight years ago today (2nd September 2015), the body of two-year-old Alan Kurdi was found on a beach in Turkey. It was later revealed that Kurdi had drowned mere minutes into a dangerous journey across the Mediterranean Sea.

The images of Kurdi’s body shocked the world, triggering a sharp increase in charitable donations from the public, and forcing politicians to respond to the plight of asylum seekers trying to reach safety in Europe[1]. Tens of thousands of people took to the streets to protest – including here in Oxford.

But the story of two-year-old Alan continues to repeat itself. Just over seven years later, in September 2022, four-year-old Loujin, also from Syria, was found dead after spending days on a boat adrift from Lebanon[2].

Loujin and Alan’s stories are not, and never were, isolated examples.

Alan Kurdi and his family were one of many families that undertook the dangerous journey to Greece. Kurdi, alongside his brother and mother, were three of the estimated 3,600 refugees who died in the Mediterranean Sea that year.

The story of their journey is one that lasted only five minutes. It is a disaster experienced often. It is the same story told by Olympic swimmer Yusra Mardini: the story of the capsizing dinghy, the overcrowded boat, and the dangerous vessel carrying enormous risk of death. Mardini and her sister tugged their boat across the water for three hours to reach safety after the motor broke down. They were two children, stuck in an overcrowded boat, who saved the lives of the passengers that were unable to swim[3]. Their journeys are among the better-known stories of the millions of Syrians who were forced to leave their homes by the devasting civil war[4]. According to UNHCR, over 12 million Syrians remain displaced – an almost incomprehensible number.

After 12 years of conflict, the plight of the Syrian people is not over. Syrians are now not only facing the cost of war but also the devastation of the earthquakes in February 2023 that affected a further 8.8 million people[5]. The conditions in refugee camps continue to worsen, and it was found that 90% of Syrian refugees in Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan, and Iraq cannot meet their basic needs and a fifth of these people, as a result, consider moving onto new countries including the UK.

The continuous list of disasters at sea since Alan Kurdi’s death eight years ago should be devastating wake-up call. Syrian refugees and asylum seekers continue to face the dangerous journeys that horrified the world eight years ago. Syrian refugees were ranked fourth in arrivals by boat in the UK from 2020-2021, with 88% being granted asylum or leave to stay in the UK[6]. Syrians were reported as the nationality most likely to have a claim granted in the UK, yet are still suffering from the lack of safe routes available to them.

In remembering Alan Kurdi, it is imperative to acknowledge the journeys, deaths, and decisions that Syrian refugees continue to face today. This is a message echoed by Tima Kurdi, the aunt of two-year-old Alan who lost her sister and two nephews that day. Kurdi tried to bring her family over to Canada, but her attempts were unsuccessful. She later heard the news that her sister and two nephews had drowned. She asked herself why, after the deaths of many innocent children in the war, it took the picture of her nephew on the beach “to move us to be human[7]“.

“Do not be silent”, she asks.

[1] Drowned Syrian Boy Alan Kurdi’s Story: Behind the Photo | Time

[2] Endless Tragedies in the Mediterranean Sea | Human Rights Watch (

[3] Tokyo 2020: Syrian refugee Yusra Mardini recalls how ‘swimming literally saved my life’ as she prepares to compete in Olympics | World News | Sky News

[4] Syria: The story of the conflict – BBC News

[5] After 12 years of civil war, the last thing Syrians needed was an earthquake – CBS News

[6] Channel crossings: who would make such a dangerous journey – and why? | Global development | The Guardian

[7] Tima Kurdi: How one photo captured a humanitarian crisis | TED Talk