Drowned Syrian boy buried as Europe wrangles over refugees
The father of a Syrian toddler whose drowning shocked the world buried his family on Thursday in the war-torn town they originally fled, as divided European ministers scrambled to agree a response to the refugee crisis.
Hungarian authorities were locked in a stand-off with migrants who left Budapest’s main train station on foot for Austria, while Britain said it would take thousands more Syrian refugees as the crisis mounted.
Pressure on EU leaders has intensified with the heartbreaking pictures of three-year-old Aylan Kurdi’s body on a Turkish beach, after he drowned with his brother Ghaleb and mother Rihana while they tried to cross to Greece.
His father Abdullah Kurdi — who has told how his sons “slipped through my hands” when their boat sank in the Aegean Sea — returned home to the Syrian border town of Kobane to lay them to rest.
“I will have to pay the price for this the rest of my life,” the devastated father told mourners, after carrying his sons’ bodies himself to be buried in Kobane’s Martyrs’ Cemetery, where around 100 people attended the ceremony.
The family were driven out of Kobane in June following fierce fighting between Kurdish militants and Islamic State militants, and Kurdi called for a “solution to the tragedies” gripping his country.
Tensions are mounting over Europe’s failure to cope with the worst refugee crisis since World War II, during which more than 350,00 migrants have crossed the Mediterranean Sea, and around 2,600 have died.
UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres warned that the EU faced a “defining moment” after little Aylan’s death and called for the mandatory resettlement of 200,000 refugees by EU states.
– ‘Stop pointing the finger’ –
EU foreign ministers met in Luxembourg to discuss the crisis, which has split the bloc between countries like Germany urging more solidarity and mainly eastern nations such as Hungary that take a hardline approach.
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier — whose country is taking in 800,000 asylum seekers this year, far more than any other EU nation — urged partners to “stop pointing the finger. Recriminations will not get this under control”.
Hungary’s right-wing Prime Minister Viktor Orban had lashed out at Germany on Thursday for aggravating the flow of people through his country by saying it would not deport Syrian refugees.
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has proposed mandatory quotas for resettling 160,000 refugees across the EU to take the pressure off overstretched Greece, Italy and Hungary.
Hungary has become the latest flashpoint, with police locked in a stalemate with thousands of refugees who have streamed across a new route through the Western Balkans in recent months.
More than 1,000 migrants stranded for days at Budapest’s main train station left the building on Friday, intent on walking to the Austrian border. Some were on crutches, while some parents carried their children on their shoulders.
“We are very happy that something is happening at last, The next stop is Austria. The children are very tired, Hungary is very bad, we have to go somehow,” 23-year-old Osama from Syria told AFP.
Hungary meanwhile shut its main border crossing with Serbia after about 300 people escaped from a nearby refugee camp in Roszke. Separately 500 migrants refused for a second day to get off a train that police stopped en route to the Austrian border.
The scenes will increase international pressure on Orban, who has been criticised for building a fence on the border with Serbia to keep out migrants, and for comments warning that Europe’s Christian roots were at risk from Muslim migrants.
– Britain to take thousands more –
Under-fire British Prime Minister David Cameron, whose country has been accused of failing to help shoulder the burden, said meanwhile he would set out plans next week for his country to take “thousands more” refugees.
“I can announce that we will do more, providing resettlement for thousands more Syrian refugees,” Cameron said in Lisbon.
However he insisted Britain would take refugees direct from camps on the border with Syria and not those already in other EU member states, saying that would just encourage more people to make the journey to Europe.
At least 30 more migrants are feared to have drowned off Libya after their dinghy began to sink, the International Organisation for Migration said Friday.
The human cost of the migrant crisis has been underscored by the drowning of Aylan, and the images of the child’s lifeless body, in a T-shirt, shorts and shoes, lying face down on the beach.
Reports said the family were trying to get to Canada but Ottawa denied it had received an asylum request from them.
The picture sent shockwaves across the world, with charity Migrant Offshore Aid Station, which helps rescue migrants in the Mediterranean, saying it had received a record 600,000 euros in donations since it was published.
But it has also prompted a furious reaction, with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, which hosts 1.8 million Syrian refugees, accusing European leaders of turning the Mediterranean into a “cemetery”.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, a long-standing ally of Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad, said Europe’s migrant crisis was an “absolutely expected” result of the West’s policies in the Middle East.