Alan Kurdi's aunt reflects on Syria, refugees and her hopes for her family

PORT COQUITLAM, B.C. -- It looks like any other hair salon.

Shiny hydraulic swivel chairs sit in front of mirrored work stations.

See Full Article

Hair-dryer seats line the far wall. Brightly coloured gels and shampoos festoon various shelves. Sweets fill a bowl beside the cash register.

But for owner Tima Kurdi, the aunt of a toddler whose horrific death beamed a spotlight on a refugee crisis and forever altered the lives of countless Syrian migrants, this space represents her extended family's future.

"I'm calling it Kurdi Hair Design," says Kurdi about the salon, nestled between a children's reading centre and an optometry clinic in a nondescript strip mall in Port Coquitlam, B.C.

"It's a family business."

On Sept. 2, the lifeless body of her nephew Alan Kurdi was discovered face down on a Turkish beach. He died alongside his mother and five-year-old brother who, like so many Syrian refugees before and since, were driven by desperation to attempt the dangerous boat crossing from Turkey to Greece.

Within hours, the chilling image had raced across the globe, eliciting shock and horror, and prompting countries to open their doors, at least temporarily, to thousands fleeing their wartorn home.

After working for years to bring her own relatives to Canada, Alan's death thrust Kurdi into the international spotlight as a spokeswoman for the refugees' plight. She travelled to Belgium, Germany and Turkey, helping give a voice to those displaced by the war in Syria.

"I'm nobody, really. I just know the stories and I lived with the suffering for so many years. And now I have the chance to speak on behalf of them. That's why," she says, explaining her advocacy work.

"I'm just a normal person who speaks from the heart."

The federal Liberals' come-from-behind election victory in October soon saw Canada pledge to welcome 25,000 refugees by the end of the year, though that deadline was extended to the beginning of March due in part to security concerns raised in the wake of the attacks in Paris.

While she praises Canada for its efforts -- and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in particular -- Kurdi worries that already the world is beginning to forget the thousands of people still struggling to escape Syria.

"That hurts me even more," she says, tears slowly streaming down her face. "Nobody's paying attention to all the suffering people. There are so many suffering people there. I'm not just talking about my family.

"They're not terrorists. They're human beings. ... They had businesses. They had jobs. They owned a house. They sent their kids to school. They're like every single one of us in the West," Kurdi says, her fingers playing anxiously with the tissue she holds in her lap.

"What do you feel when you wake up one day and you lose everything that you own in your life?" she asks. "You go somewhere. You run to safety because of your kids. You become nobody. And nobody cares. That's not fair."

Despite the pain it causes every time she's confronted with her relatives' deaths, Kurdi says she doesn't want her nephew's tragedy to be forgotten.

"I want the world to remember that picture."

Kurdi says she's humbled by the outpouring of support her family has received, although she has also had to endure an onslaught of negative comments from online trolls.

A simple, black-string necklace hangs around her neck with a small framed photo of Alan, together with his older brother Ghalib, who also died during the treacherous Mediterranean boat crossing.

A woman from New Zealand, touched by the Kurdi family's tragedy, mailed two identical necklaces to Canada -- one for her and the other for her brother Abdullah Kurdi, Alan's father.

"It was the most beautiful gift I've ever received."

"I phoned my brother and I told him about it and he was in tears. He said, 'How beautiful people in the world are. It had to be my kids to wake up the world."'

But the Kurdi family's fortunes seem to be turning.

Her other brother, Mohammad Kurdi, is scheduled to arrive into Vancouver with his wife and five kids on Monday.

After an initial rejection by Canadian immigration authorities because of document complications, Tima Kurdi was invited in the fall to re-apply for approval -- along with many other hopeful Canadian sponsors -- and this time she was given the green light to bring her brother's family in as refugees.

Mohammad Kurdi has been in Germany since leaving his wife and four kids seven months ago to find work. Before flying on to Canada, the family will reunite in Frankfurt, where he'll meet his fifth and youngest child for the first time.

"It still has not hit me yet, the excitement," says Kurdi about her relatives' pending arrival. "We are still hurt. We always think about the nephews, the mother, about my brother.

"Maybe that will change a little bit when I see their smiles and they are safe," she says, referring to Mohammad's family.

Sitting in the middle of her new shop, where the storefront sign was installed just a day earlier, she talks about pain, but also about resilience.

"When something breaks, it doesn't matter how you twist it around. The part that's broken, it's always going to show, forever," Kurdi says. "But it will get better."

For her, the business is a new beginning.

Mohammad, who ran a barber shop in Syria, will soon arrive and she's hopeful their brother Abdullah, who left Turkey after his family's deaths and now lives in Kurdistan, will eventually join them.

"We're going to make it. We're going to work hard together," she says, eyes flashing. "I know we can do it."



Advertisements

Latest Canada & World News

  • Transgender people can enlist in the U.S. military on Jan. 1

    World News CTV News
    WASHINGTON -- The Pentagon is allowing transgender people to enlist in the military beginning Jan. 1, despite U.S. President Donald Trump's opposition. The new policy reflects growing legal pressure on the issue, and the difficult hurdles the federal government would have to cross to enforce Trump's demand to ban transgender individuals from the military. Source
  • Victory over Islamic State declared, worry is now guerrilla warfare

    World News CBC News
    Welcome to The National Today, which takes a closer look at what's happening around some of the day's most notable stories. Sign up here under "Subscribe to The National's newsletter," and it will be delivered directly to your inbox Monday to Friday. Source
  • Relatives of murdered seniors set to ask to take part in public inquiry

    Canada News CTV News
    TORONTO -- Relatives of murdered seniors, along with advocacy and health-care groups, are among four dozen applicants seeking to participate in a public inquiry sparked by a nurse who killed eight elderly long-term-care residents in Ontario. Source
  • B.C. man charged with animal cruelty after dog nearly dies of fleas

    Canada News CTV News
    VANCOUVER -- An advocacy group says an animal cruelty charge has been laid against a British Columbia man after a dog nearly died of a serious flea infestation. The SPCA says in a release that an older terrier named Rascal was rushed to an animal hospital on Vancouver Island earlier this year after losing about 85 per cent of his blood to fleas. Source
  • 'Tis the season for doorstep stealing? Shoppers vent about delivery security

    Canada News CBC News
    Todd Bailey is fed up with delivery companies that drop his online purchases at his door. A few years ago, the Grande Prairie, Alta., resident was at the hospital for the birth of his child when a big-screen TV he had ordered was left on his front stoop. Source
  • Happy Valley-Goose Bay mayor made superhuman effort to get help after being shot

    Canada News CTV News
    HAPPY VALLEY GOOSE BAY, N.L. -- Friends of a Labrador mayor say he somehow got on a snowmobile and reached a nearby highway to flag down help after he was shot in the lower face while hunting. Source
  • Sask. man sentenced after threatening online to 'blow out' Justin Trudeau's brains

    Canada News CBC News
    A Saskatchewan man has received a two-year suspended sentence for making online threats against Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Derek Hurrell, 34, pleaded guilty to one count of uttering threats earlier this year. According to the Crown prosecutor, Hurrell posted on Facebook stating he wanted to "blow out" Justin Trudeau's brains. Source
  • Women who accuse Trump of sexual misconduct call for Capitol Hill investigation

    World News CBC News
    Three women who have previously accused President Donald Trump of sexual harassment shared their stories Monday on NBC's Megyn Kelly Today. Jessica Leeds, Samantha Holvey and Rachel Crooks told of alleged harassment by Trump spanning decades. Source
  • Ex-contractor says he shut Trump's Twitter account by accident

    World News CBC News
    The contractor who shut down Donald Trump's Twitter account has told Reuters he did so by mistake, but says he believes some of the U.S. president's recent tweets breach the social network's ban on hate speech. Source
  • Man, 24, arrested for trying to climb Buckingham Palace wall

    World News CTV News
    London police say they have arrested a 24-year-old-man who allegedly tried to climb a wall outside Buckingham Palace on Sunday night. The Metropolitan Police said Monday the suspect didn't have any weapons on him and "the incident is not being treated as terrorist related. Source