My name is Aylan. A friend is writing this for me. I can’t because I drowned. I was three years old.
After ISIS and other people attacked our city in Syria, my Daddy and Mommy decided to find a better life for our family. My Daddy’s sister in Vancouver said nice things about Canada. My parents decided to take my big brother Galip and me, and go there. We didn’t make it.
This is my story:
Our home in Syria was really nice. When the war came in 2013, Daddy and Mommy took us to Turkey. We left everything behind. Daddy was not allowed to work in Turkey.
From time to time, Daddy was able to find some food for us, and places to stay. Sometimes we were allowed to stay in camps. They were smelly and dirty, and very crowded. Often we slept in the woods. Most nights we went to sleep shivering. Our stomachs ached from being hungry. We moved around a lot.
The winter of 2014-15 was very hard. We didn’t have many warm clothes. We were cold all the time.
In the early spring, Daddy said he heard that the fighting had stopped in our hometown, Kobani. We went back. While we were away, all of our things were stolen. Our house had been damaged. We had to start over.
But being back made Galip and me happy. We lived with Mommy’s parents for a while until Daddy and his friends fixed our home enough to move back. It was good to have a warm place to sleep again, and lots of food and a yard. We had a few toys to play with and things to climb on.
Galip told me how he used to play before, with lots of toys and swings, and a teeter-totter and climbing things. I was too little then. But now, Galip and me were having fun playing together. I was a happy little boy again.
In June, the bad people came back. They attacked our town again. Our house was bombed. It was destroyed. We were lucky to be alive. My Mommy’s parents were killed when their house was bombed. Daddy’s brother was killed, too. Some other family and neighbors were also killed. Lots of people were hurt. The bad men took away the young women in our neighborhood. Their families were frightened for them. They don’t know where they have been taken or what is happening to them.
My parents took us back to Turkey. To get away from Kobani without being caught by ISIS, we had to leave all of our things behind again. Back in Turkey, everything had become worse. Before, thousands of people like us were there. Now there were hundreds of thousands living in many camps, in the woods and along highways. Everyone had become desperate. Some people called us awful names.
It was becoming unsafe in Turkey. There were lots of bad people, but not as bad as those at home who we called ISIS or Daesh. Mommy and Daddy were afraid of them. They killed many people for no reason at all. In Turkey, the bad people tried to steal our food and blankets, and our money. They made Mommy and Daddy angry. We were not as afraid of being killed by them though, but they made us unhappy.
Somehow, my Daddy was able to contact my aunt in Vancouver. He and my Mommy smiled a lot after my aunt loaned us C$6,000. She said that she would do everything she could to help us come to Canada.
Our family was happy again, for the first time in a long time. That might sound odd. We had nothing. We were hungry. We were cold. We had no place to live. But now we had hope… so we were happy.
Daddy and Mommy got all of the papers that my aunt said we would need to go to Canada. We were very excited when she described how nice Canadians are. It took many hours for my Mommy and Daddy to fill out the papers. Then, they were told that the only other thing we needed was a form signed by an official in Turkey saying we were refugees.
Mommy and Daddy became sad when they could not find someone who would sign the paper. We did not understand why. Officials from Canada said we could not come to Canada unless that form was signed.
Maybe that’s why Daddy decided to look for another way for us to reach safety. Twice my Daddy tried to get a boat to take us to an island called Kos. It’s part of Greece. Daddy said we would be safe there. He said he would keep looking for a boat.
Mommy didn’t want to go. She was afraid of the water and boats. She didn’t know how to swim. Mommy told Daddy that if something awful happened on the boat she would not know what to do or how to help.
Daddy said we could not go back to Syria. The war had destroyed everything. There was no life for us there. But things were also getting worse in Turkey. He said our best hope was to go to Greece and then to somewhere else in Europe. Once there we could decide to build a new life in Europe. Or better yet, we could try again getting to Canada where my aunt is living. She had offered to sponsor us.
Mommy was frightened but agreed reluctantly to ride in a boat. On his third try, Daddy was lucky and found a boat. He paid money to someone who promised to take us to the island of Kos. It was only 5 kilometers away. The boat was not very big, a dingy really. It was supposed to carry only eight people. But when the dingy was pushed into the sea 16 people climbed into it.
The waves were pretty high as we started out. The dingy was less than a kilometer from shore when a storm came up. That’s how we found out there were only a few lifejackets. The dingy began to bob up and down a lot. Everyone became frightened.
Water started coming into the dingy. Then the engine quit. The man who was steering disappeared. We don’t know if he fell overboard or jumped. Daddy tried to steer. Without an engine it didn’t work out very well.
The wind got worse and the waves kept getting higher and higher.
Suddenly the dingy flipped over. The wind must have caught it at the top of a wave. Everyone was thrown into the water. All of our bags, coats, blankets, and food disappeared into the water.
Daddy grabbed Galip and me and Mommy. He held onto the dingy with one hand while holding us tightly between him and Mommy with his other arm. She was very scared.
The wind whipped the waves fiercely. The four of us were bobbing around out of control as the terrible wind screamed louder and louder. It was very hard for Daddy to hold on. Then, suddenly we couldn’t see Daddy anymore.
I don’t remember much after that. I drowned. So did my big brother. So did my Mommy.
My lifeless body was found on the sandy beach in Turkey we’d left less that an hour earlier. My brother’s body was found on the shore close to mine. They found my Mommy’s body farther down the shore among some rocks.
I wasn’t the only toddler to drown that day. Other children on the dingy died too. We will not be the last.
Daddy took our bodies back to Kobani. He buried us there. He said his life is over now that he’s lost us. He wanted to be buried with us.
If we could tell him– my Mommy, Galip and me — we would want Daddy to go on with his life. We would want him to be with his sister in Canada, and to make a new life. We heard so many nice things about that country… but now we cannot come to live with him.
Many people from Syria are being welcomed into Canada. My Daddy’s brother and his family are among them. Maybe he will go too. I hope so.
- “I Am Aylan” is based on the death of Aylan Kurdi (also called Alan) in the Aegean Sea this past summer. Photographs of his body on a Turkish beach galvanized world attention. The purpose of this story is not to relive those horrendous events but to bring into focus, as we sit comfortably in our homes, the unimaginable hardships being experienced by those innocent families forced to become refugees through no fault of their own. Aylan’s story is symbolic; it is being repeated tens of thousands of times even as you read this. They are among more than 4.5 million refugees in the greatest human tragedy since the Second World War.
- Above all, “I Am Aylan” is intended to challenge those who would deny sanctuary to these innocent men, women, children and elderly, for no reason other than prejudice based upon ignorance. This is just what ISIS intends — divide us. So here is the challenge: Visualize yourself in the refugees’ circumstances – if you have the courage to do so… and then give thanks for your incredibly good fortune to live in the peaceful, caring country that you do.
- Canada has committed to welcoming 25,000 refugees, and may double that number. Good for Canada! I’m proud to be a citizen of, and to have served in uniform for, a country with the moral rectitude to open its arms with such compassion to fellow human beings.
Note: This story is creative non-fiction – that is, while most of it comes from news reports about the lives and tragic deaths of Aylan, his older brother Galip and his mother, Rehana, some gaps were filled with conjecture drawn from the source materials.
Photo Credits: Photos of Aylan Kurdi that galvanized world attention were taken by Nilufer Demir, 29, a photojournalist for a Turkish news agency. I choose not to use her disturbing and most famous photo of Aylan lying dead on the beach. It is certain to be a candidate for a Pulitzer Prize. Other photos are courtesy of Rex Features Ltd., The Guardian, The Independent and The Telegraph, all of London, UK, Maclean’s Magazine, Portmoneto.com, and home.bt.com.
“I Am Aylan” is Copyright 2015 by James Osborne. All Rights Reserved.