Tima Kurdi does not like to dwell on the image of the body of her nephew, Alan, which spread around the world three years ago.
“To be honest, I’ve only looked at it once,” she tells The Telegraphduring an interview to mark the third anniversary of the death of three-year-old Alan, his brother Galip, 5, and their mother Rehana.
The family, including father Abdallah, were crossing the Mediterranean in a bid to reach Europe, as thousands of other Syrian refugees have, when their boat fell into trouble and they were thrust into the sea. Abdallah, who is Tima’s brother, was the only survivor.
The power of the image of Alan’s tiny body lying prone after washing up on the shoreline of a Turkish beach, has left the family torn. Reproduced in newspapers, artwork and viral posts, it became a call to action. But it has also been a painful reminder of the tragedy.
“I feel we can swallow our pain if people want to use that image to empower them to help others, it’s ok and I always say that,” says Mrs Kurdi. “We need to keep reminding people of that image so they can help others, but at the same time don’t use it for your own greed and take advantage.”
It was Mrs Kurdi who encouraged her brother to make the journey to Europe with his family, in the hopes that they would soon be able to join her in Canada, where she has lived for 26 years.
In a new book, The Boy on the Beach, she reflects on her sense of guilt in the immediate aftermath of the tragedy.
“If I hadn’t sent the money for the smugglers, Rehanna, Ghalib, and Alan would still be alive,” she writes of her thoughts after hearing about the accident. “Too many what ifs, crashing into each other.”
In the three years since, she and Abdallah have set up a charity, the Kurdi Foundation, to provide meals, clothing and medicine to children in refugee camps.
“We’re really hoping that we are planting that seed and it’s going to slowly grow,” she says. “Abdallah wants to open a school in Syria and name it after those boys. So at least the children inside Syria will have the school and then move on, forward.”
The image of Alan, like that of five-year-old Omran Daqneesh captured in the aftermath of a bomb attack, was one of many in the Syrian war that caused people to say ‘never again’ but, three years on, migrants are dying at sea at a higher rate than ever. Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands are still stuck in refugee camps in Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan and the Kurdi Foundation has struggled to raise funds for its work.
Mrs Kurdi hopes her book, which chronicles her childhood in Syria and migration to Canada after she married, to the months and weeks leading up to that September sea crossing and its aftermath, will dispel some of the misinformation about the refugee crisis that led the family to board a precarious dinghy.
“The story is not about one image, the story is about all those thousands of refugees who still struggle to find the basics of what they need to survive,” she says.
She is critical of what she sees as Western inaction over the crisis, and laments a failure to understand why people have fled.
“I don’t blame people because lots of us in the Western countries we watch the news from our comfortable TV room. We have no idea what’s going on in the other side of the world,” she says.
“I was one of them. Even though I know my family was a refugee and I was trying to help them, but I was like everybody else. I sent them money, I hear their struggle and feel sorry for them, but I move on in my life.”
But, she adds: “Imagine sending your own children to school, and you pray to God that they come home in one piece, there is no bomb, they don’t die. Imagine your children playing soccer on the street and they witness a suicide bomb,” she says.
She wants to see the West, including the UK, take more responsibility for the 5.6 million Syrians who have fled the conflict. The UK has taken 10,000 Syrian refugees since 2015, and pledged to take a further 10,000 by 2020.
“I’m hoping in the UK to see more opening in this idea and the faster processing of the refugee to come to the UK,” she says. “Just focus and it’s going to benefit the country in the long-term.”
For Mrs Kurdi, who wears a photo of Alan and Galip around her neck, the work of the foundation provides a way to create something positive from her family’s tragedy, and to keep their memory alive.
“This is how I remember them, with the work. I see them around me all the time, [when I see] two birds in my backyard. All the time, I see them,” she says. “Maybe when you’re traumatised and still grieving, you picture the image you want to see. But that’s ok because they empower me and they are they and watching me.”