Father of drowned Syrian toddler seeks empathy for refugees in Christmas message

Abdullah Kurdi in a screenshot from the video.
Abdullah Kurdi in a screenshot from the video.PHOTO: YOUTUBE

LONDON (AFP) - The father of toddler Aylan Kurdi, whose lifeless body on a Turkish beach became a symbol of the refugee crisis, has made a Christmas appeal to the world to open its doors to Syrians fleeing conflict.

Abdullah Kurdi said that when a door is opened, people "no longer feel humiliated" in a video message broadcast on Britain's Channel 4 on Christmas Day.

Images of Kurdi's three-year-old son lying washed up and face down on a Turkish beach shocked the world and personalised the horror of the refugee crisis.

His family, sheltering in Turkey from the war in Syria, had decided to make a desperate bid to reach Greece in a flimsy inflatable boat.

Kurdi called for empathy and understanding for those caught up in the refugee crisis.

"My message is I'd like the whole world to open its doors to Syrians. If a person shuts a door in someone's face, this is very difficult," he says in the video message.

"When a door is opened they no longer feel humiliated."

Aylan's mother Rihana and brother Ghaleb, four, died in the same accident and were buried in the Syrian town of Kobane in September, days after the tragedy.

The message comes after the UN refugee agency said that more than one million migrants and refugees reached Europe this year.

They included over 970,000 who made the dangerous journey across the Mediterranean.

Abdullah Kurdi had been trying to escape along with his family and up to three other Syrians from the flashpoint town of Kobane, which was last year the site of a months-long battle between Kurdish militias and militants.

"At this time of year I would like to ask you all to think about the pain of fathers, mothers and children who are seeking peace and security," says Kurdi, who now lives in Erbil in Iraq. "We ask just for a little bit of sympathy from you."

His video message is interspersed with footage of the refugee crisis and of dangerous Mediterranean crossings from Libya to Italy and from Turkey to Greece.

The UNHCR said that of the million who reached Europe in 2015, about half were Syrians fleeing the country's brutal civil war.

"The number of people displaced by war and conflict is the highest seen in Western and Central Europe since the 1990s," it said, referring to conflicts in the former Yugoslavia.

Greece was by far the leading landing spot for migrants to Europe this year, with 821,008 arrivals including 816,752 by sea, according to the International Organisation for Migration.

A total of 3,692 migrants died or disappeared crossing the Mediterranean this year, it added.

EU leaders have set an end-of-June deadline to agree on a new border and coastguard force to slow the influx of migrants across the 28-nation bloc's porous external frontier.

They have also called for the rapid delivery of a promised €3 billion in aid for refugees in Turkey in return for its help in stemming the flow.

Life is a struggle for most Syrians in Turkey, who live mostly off odd jobs that are often insufficient to feed and house a family.

Following a slew of emergency summits this year, EU leaders have acknowledged they were too slow to carry out a joint strategy to tackle Europe's worst refugee crisis since World War II.