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2 Syrians Sentenced in Deaths of Alan Kurdi and 4 Other Migrants

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Friday, March 4th, 2016
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ISTANBUL — Two Syrian men were sentenced to more than four years in prison on Friday for the death of a young Syrian boy whose body washed up on a beach in Turkey in September.

The death of the boy, Alan Kurdi, and the gripping photo of his body lying facedown in the sand and surf of the beach focused the world’s attention on the plight of migrants risking their lives to flee war and deprivation.

The Turkish news agency Dogan identified the two men as Muwafaka Alabash, 36, and Asem Alfrhad, 35. A court in the coastal resort town of Bodrum, in southwestern Turkey, convicted them of smuggling refugees, five of whom died, including Alan, 2; his 5-year-old brother, Galip; and their mother, Rihan. They all drowned when the 15-foot rubber raft they were riding to Greece flipped in high waves.

The court acquitted the men on charges of causing the deaths through deliberate negligence, and reduced their initial sentence of five years in prison to four years and two months because of good behavior, according to Dogan. The court left open the possibility that the men could file an appeal.

The judgment on Friday prompted immediate critical reactions on social media, where observers appeared to find the punishment — they had faced a maximum of 35 years in prison — too lenient.

Refugee smuggling is a relatively new type of crime, in comparison with drugs and weapons smuggling, so the appropriate level of penalty is less established, according to Metin Corabatir, a former official at the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the founder of the Asylum and Migration Research Center in Ankara, Turkey’s capital.

“Human conscience wants more serious penalties for those people who risk others’ lives for money, to prevent similar things from happening,” Mr. Corabatir said. “This turned into commerce.”

Mr. Corabatir did not exonerate the two Syrians, but he said the real responsibility lay elsewhere.

“Arresting one or two smugglers is just the tip of the iceberg,” he said. “The perpetrators are in Washington, Moscow, Ankara, Jordan, at different levels and in Brussels.”

This image of Alan's body washed up on a beach in Turkey led to an outpouring of concern for Syrian refugees. Since then, at least 100 more children have drowned in the Mediterranean Sea. Credit Nilufer Demir, via Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
This image of Alan’s body washed up on a beach in Turkey led to an outpouring of concern for Syrian refugees. Since then, at least 100 more children have drowned in the Mediterranean Sea. Credit Nilufer Demir, via Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

He was referring to the United States and Russia, which have both intervened in the Syrian civil war, and to Turkey and Jordan, which are sheltering a majority of the estimated 4.7 million Syrian refugees.

The local prosecutor in Bodrum had said that the authorities could not find any evidence that the Syrians acted with deliberate negligence, the legal standard for a tougher punishment, according to local news reports.

A lawyer for Mr. Alabash, Kemal Ertugrul, said that the chief organizers of the smuggling ring were still at large, and that his client would appeal the verdict. Mr. Ertugrul has also charged that the boy’s father, Abdullah Kurdi, was involved in smuggling refugees, an allegation the father has denied.

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