A Turkish court began trying two suspected human smugglers Thursday in the death of Aylan Kurdi, the Syrian toddler whose death became a symbol of the refugee crisis last September with a photo of his small body washed up on a beach. Muwafaka Alabash and Asem Alfrhad went on trial in Bodrum for smuggling and killing Aylan and four others "through deliberate negligence," Agence France-Presse reported. They could spend up to 35 years in prison if convicted.
Alabash and Alfrhad are two of four people charged in the death of Aylan, his older brother, Galip, and his mother, Rihan. Aylan and his relatives, who came from the besieged Kurdish town of Kobane but lived in Turkey, drowned in the Aegean Sea last year on their way to Greece. They were attempting to escape the Syrian civil war, which has sent more than 4 million people fleeing to neighboring countries, but their boat capsized. Only Aylan's father survived.
Photographer Nilüfer Demir shot a picture of Aylan's small body lying on the sand in Bodrum. The image was shared worlwide in the media and online, sparking responses from world leaders like Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and British Prime Minister David Cameron, according to the Washington Post.
"Is there anybody on the planet who could not be moved by what they saw in the papers — anybody with a sense of humanity — who saw the body of a young boy washed up on a beach like driftwood?" Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny said at the time. "This is a human catastrophe."
Aylan Kurdi. One of the most heartbreaking image for me in 2015. When humanity failed. pic.twitter.com/GwDocWUB92
— Agent Provocateur (@De_Imperial) December 31, 2015
More than 3,300 refugees died en route to Europe last year, at least 185 of them children in the Aegean, according to the Middle East Monitor. But the human smuggling business continues to thrive. Traffickers in the region typically charge about $3,000 per person they transport to Europe, Al Jazeera reported. The trips often turn deadly because they don't involve sturdy life jackets or safe sea crafts.
Aylan's father, Abdullah Kurdi, joined Alabash and Alfrhad on trial Thursday but did not appear in court. His charges were unclear, though he has been accused in the past of driving the boat when it overturned — something he has denied.
"If I was a people smuggler, why would I put my family in the same boat as the other people?" Reuters reported he said last year.