Tima Kurdi feels responsible for the deaths of Aylan Kurdi, his brother and their mother

By Vivienne Walt ~ BRUSSELS

Tima Kurdi awoke on Sept. 2 at home in Vancouver to dozens of missed calls on her phone from relatives in Syria. The news was grim: Her brother Abdullah’s wife and two children had drowned crossing the Mediterranean from Turkey to Greece. And within hours, her nephew — three-year-old Aylan Kurdi — would become the world’s most famous casualty, a dead toddler in a red T-shirt and black sneakers washed ashore on a Turkish beach. “Every day kids have drowned,” Kurdi says, sitting in a Brussels hotel room on Monday. “But before Aylan died, people read it and moved on. That boy, that picture, meant something.”

Two weeks on, it has become clear how much Aylan Turki’s death meant. The image of Aylan’s body, in his neat clothes and a fresh haircut, jolted leaders into action after months of dithering over one of the biggest refugee crises in about 70 years. Within days the U.S., Germany, and France offered to settle tens of thousands of Syrian refugees, for the first time in the five-year war. On Monday and Tuesday European Union ministers met in Brussels to discuss Europe’s first unified asylum policy. Although they battled to agree on binding quotas to host those who’ve flooded across E.U. borders, refugee advocates says Aylan’s death has nonetheless marked a sharp turning point for Europe. “If Aylan had not happened I don’t think Europe would be having this existential discussion,” says Sam Barratt, campaign director for the New York-based activist organization Avaaz, which financed Tima Kurdi’s Brussels trip. “Without that photo, the E.U. would have kicked the issue into the long grass.”

For Aylan’s aunt, 44, who works as a hairdresser in Vancouver, it has been a bitter price to pay. Sunk into an armchair, Kurdi wrings her hands as she describes how the loss of Aylan, his brother Galib, 5, and their mother Rehana, has shattered her family, leaving them exhausted with grief and uncertain about their future.

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