Design a site like this with
Get started

Seven years since Alan Kurdi’s tragic death, the Mediterranean and Aegean seas have become a mass graveyard

Activist tell The Civil Fleet how the situation for the people at Fortress Europe’s walls has only got worse since the two-year-old boy’s lifeless body was seen across the world

IN THE seven years since the tragic death of the two-year-old Syrian-Kurdish boy Alan Kurdi, the Mediterranean and Aegean seas have become a mass graveyard, activists told The Civil Fleet today.

On the evening of September 2, 2015, 16 people, including Alan and many members of his family, bordered a small boat in Turkey with the hope of finding safety on the Greek island of Kos. 

The family had twice been forced to flee their home city of Kobani, in norther Syria, after it was attacked by the terrorist group Isis. 

The family’s asylum application to join family members in Canada had recently been rejected on a technicality. And Turkey, then as now, was not a safe place for Kurdish people. 

By 5am their five-metre boat had shipwrecked, and the bodies of Alan, his brother and mother, had washed up on a beach near the tourist haven of Bodrum, southwest Turkey.

Alan’s lifeless body was photographed face down in the surf, and featured in newspapers and TV reports across the world. For an all too brief moment, Europe was reminded that these people were in fact human, and not just numbers.  

Today, on the seventh anniversary of Alan Kurdi’s death, The Civil Fleet asked some of the activists groups involved in the refugee rescue and support missions across Europe to send us a few lines on the current situation of the so-called “migrant crisis.” 

Alarm Phone

Seven years since the drowning of Alan Kurdi, the situation at Europe’s borders remains devastating and violent. 

In the Aegean region, people are systematically pushed back at land and sea borders – one of the most recent victims was Maria, a 5-year-old girl

In the Atlantic, the route to the Canaries, so many boats disappear without ever being accounted for. 

In the central Mediterranean, people are abandoned and left to die or forced back to the escalating conflict in Libya – by militia forces funded, trained, and equipped by the EU and its member states.

At the same time, we have seen new forms of organising and solidarity along all migratory routes. EU border crimes are now exposed and documented every day. 

The rescue organisations keep returning to the central Mediterranean, despite all obstacles put in their paths by EU authorities. 

And, most importantly, people continue to struggle to subvert EU borders – they often succeed in crossing the sea independently, showing that migration will find its way.”

– A spokesperson for Alarm Phone, an activist-run hotline network for people in distress at Europe’s borders

Channel Rescue 

With a single photo taken on a beach in Turkey, the death of Alan Kurdi seven years ago saw a short lasting, but albeit significant, shift in how people responded, and the media portrayed the ‘refugee crisis’.

We saw an outpouring of public emotion, a significant increase in donations and large numbers of volunteers provide support to the various refugee and migrant solidarity groups in Europe and elsewhere. 

Sadly, however, the solidarity which was once shown has diminished.

Yet again, we are seeing politicians and the media stoke resentment at those people who are seeking sanctuary and forced to make increasingly dangerous journeys. We are seeing fewer donations and fewer people volunteering.

Since Alan’s death, we’ve seen the Mediterranean and Aegean become a mass graveyard

We’ve seen demolitions and evictions of refugee camps throughout Europe, without appropriate policies and alternatives in place.

We’ve also seen walls built throughout the EU with the aim of preventing people from rebuilding their lives in a place of relative safety. Violence, including the use of pushbacks and pullbacks, at European borders has also been well documented. 

In the last seven years, we’ve seen the best and worst of humanity, but it seems we’ve forgotten our collective reaction to the death of Alan Kurdi.

– Steve Martin, a spokesman for the England-based human rights monitoring activist group Channel Rescue


It is sickening that in the light of these pictures European courts are challenging the necessity of search and rescue and with that the right to live.

The death of Alan Kurdi and many thousands of others is not s political failure, but outright intent.

Why is it people on the move, and those in solidarity with them, are having to stand trial, while real crimes are being committed by European border forces, institutions and migration policymakers?

– Kathrin Schmidt, a former crew member of the Iuventa refugee rescue ship. She and many of her crew mates are currently on pre-trail in Italy for saving thousands of lives in the Mediterranean

Louise Michel

It is devastating to see that, seven years after the world was shocked by the image of a young boy’s dead body on the shores of Europe, nothing structural has been improved. 

Instead, people on the move dying at sea by the thousands each year has become a political means of deterrence by the EU.

– Ayla Emmink, a member of the operations team for the refugee rescue ship organisation Louise Michel

Mare Liberum

What we see at the European (external) borders more clear than ever is EU-funded standardised procedures of human rights violations, obfuscated as so-called border protection with disregard for the rule of law and racist standards on judging one’s life worth. 

Last month, the five-year-old Maria in [Greece’s] Evros region was killed by the European border regime! 

She and the group she was part of had been pushed back from EU soil several times, had been shot at, and forced to stay on an islet for over a month. 

In the seven years since Alan’s death, Europe has fortified its borders. Today, Europe’s values and human rights only exist on paper.

– Victoria Kaiser, an activist from the Mare Liberum, a human rights monitoring mission based off the Greek island of Lesbos


As part of our team that coordinates Sea-Eye’s civil search-and-rescue operations in the central Mediterranean, I can say with confidence that the situation is as bad as it has been for years, if not worse. 

Currently, [the International Organisation for Migration] reports 1,226 missing migrants in the Mediterranean in total. That’s five missing persons for every day of 2022. 

Each day we get reports about boats sinking, missing, or being illegally pushed back to the violence that awaits refugees and migrants in Libya. For these people, escaping via the Mediterranean is their last and only hope. 

And it often ends right back where they started: imprisoned, stripped of their rights, or in many cases: in a wet grave at the bottom of the sea. 

Malta for instance, completely denies all responsibility and doesn’t rescue refugees in distress anymore. 

It is enraging and incomprehensible how the EU chooses to uphold this system of violence and deterrence that keeps costing human lives daily.

– Sophie Weidenhiller, the search-and-rescue coordinator for Sea-Eye, a refugee rescue organisation that operates the Sea-Eye 4.


The last week shows that the situation in the central Mediterranean continues to be dramatic: 60 boats with more than 1,000 people arrived on [the Italian island of] Lampedusa on their own. 

NGO ships like the Ocean Viking had 10 rescues within 60 hours. And two people were found dead at the shores in Libya while survivors reported that many more are still missing.

What sounds like mere numbers is the current reality in the Mediterranean. But instead of assisting these people, Europe continues to build its fortress. 

These politics have cost the lives of too many people – in the Mediterranean, the Aegean and the other external borders of Europe. 

They are not a coincidence, a misfortune or an accident. Their deaths are the price Europe is willing to pay for to continue building its deadly fortress.

– Mattea Weihe, a spokesperson for Sea-Watch, a refugee rescue ship organisation

Meanwhile, international medical charity Doctors Without Borders‘ (MSF) rescue ship, the Geo Barents, is still without a port after saving the lives of 267 people last week.

SOS Mediterranee’s rescue ship, the Ocean Viking, has 420 people onboard, saved by her crew over a week ago. 

“We have never experienced such level of severe medical cases on board Ocean Viking,” warned SOS Mediterranee’s director of operations Xavier Lauth this morning. 

“The survivors were found in the middle of high seas in unimaginable situations. In a desperate attempt to find safety, they were near to die at sea, either by drowning, or by dehydration. 

“Per maritime law, their rescues will only be completed when they will have reached a Place of Safety. The current blockade for their disembarkation must find an end without further delay.”

Alarm Phone posted somewhat better news this evening on the 80 people who were drifting in Malta’s search-and-rescue zone this week, as reported by The Civil Fleet on Wednesday.

“Relatives have informed us that the people in distress reached Malta,” the activist network said. 

“We do not have any news from the Maltese authorities, but hope that this is true and that they have safely reached Europe.”

However, Alarm Phone has also alerted the authorities to many other people in distress in the past week, many of which still remain at sea. 

Update: September 3

The Ocean Viking was finally given permission to head for land late last.

SOS Mediterranee posted the following on social media around 9pm on Friday night:

“The Italian authorities have finally assigned Taranto as a Place of Safety for the 459 survivors on Ocean Viking.

“After 10 rescues, eight days of wait, overwhelming medical conditions, extreme living conditions onboard; the right of the survivors to disembark will be soon respected.”

Top image shows Alan Kurd before his death [Pic: Tima Kurdi]

Published by The Civil Fleet

A news blog and podcast focused on the activist-led refugee rescue and support missions across Fortress Europe

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: