BODRUM, Turkey (AP) — Two suspected people-smugglers went on trial in Turkey on Thursday accused of causing the death of 3-year-old Aylan Kurdi — whose drowning put a human face on the Syrian refugee crisis — and four other people.
The image of the boy's lifeless body lying face down on a Turkish beach galvanized world attention on the refugee crisis, graphically illustrating the magnitude of the suffering, the lives destroyed and the treacherous journeys the migrants risk. While Turkish authorities have given the boy's first name as Aylan, his aunt says the family prefers that it be transliterated as Alan.
Aylan's brother, Galip, and mother Rihan, were also among the five victims who drowned when their boat went down in the ill-fated journey from Bodrum to the Greek island of Kos.
The defendants, Syrian nationals Muwafaka Alabash and Asem Alfrhad, denied any responsibility in the migrants' deaths in their opening hearing. Instead, they blamed Aylan's father, Abdullah Kurdi, for the deaths — accusing him of organizing the trip.
The two have been charged with human smuggling and causing the deaths of five people "through deliberate negligence." They face up to 35 years in prison each if convicted.
As the trial was underway, the body of a girl — around the age of 8 — washed up on the shore of the resort of Didim, just north of Bodrum, the Dogan news agency reported. The agency said she is believed to have drowned some 15 days ago in a migrant boat accident.
Alfrhad told the court he was in Bodrum on a business trip with his partner and was not involved in the incident.
"I don't know why I am here or why I have been jailed for the past five months," Alfrhad said. "My family spoke with the survivors after the accident...They said Abdullah Kurdi headed this (organization) and that he then went on television as a hero."
Alabash also maintained Abdullah Kurdi was involved in the organization of the trip. The man said he was not a smuggler but a migrant who had been instructed to by Abdullah Kurdi to stay back and keep an eye on a Turkish smuggler who had the migrants' money until the group reached Greece. In return, Alabash said, Abdullah Kurdi promised he would be taken on the next trip for free.
Abdullah Kurdi has since returned to Syria.
The Kurdi family were among hundreds of thousands who risked the journey to Greece in the hope of then heading to wealthier nations in northern and western Europe. European countries have been strained by the influx of migrants, leading to disagreements over what to do with the large number of new arrivals and how to share the burden.
Despite the risks, migrants continue to take the treacherous journey across the Aegean. The International Organization for Migration says more than 400 migrants have died on that route so far this year.
Turkey reached an agreement with the European Union in November to fight smuggling networks and help curb irregular migration. In return, the EU pledged money to help improve the condition of refugees, and to grant political concessions to Turkey, including an easing of visa restrictions and the fast-tracking of its EU membership process.
Turkish officials say authorities in 2015 detained more than 4,400 smugglers who organize the often-dangerous crossings in frail boats.
The trial was adjourned until March 2.
Fraser reported from Ankara, Turkey.