ANKARA, Turkey — Two alleged people-smugglers went on trial in Turkey on Thursday accused of causing the death of 3-year-old Alan Kurdi — who 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.
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The defendants, Syrian nationals Muwafaka Alabash and Asem Alfrhad, denied any responsibility in the migrants’ deaths in their opening hearing, the private Dogan news agency reported. Instead, they blamed Alan’s father, Abdullah Kurdi, for the deaths — accusing him of organizing the trip and of sailing the boat.
READ MORE: Turkish court seeks lengthy prison terms for migrant traffickers in Alan Kurdi death
Abdullah Kurdi has since returned to Syria.
The two have been charged with human smuggling and causing the deaths of five people “through deliberate negligence” and face up to 35 years in prison each if convicted.
Alan’s brother, Ghalib, and mother Rehan, were among the five victims who drowned when their boat went down in the ill-fated journey from Bodrum to the Greek island of Kos. They 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 of Migration says more than 400 migrants have died on that route so far this year.
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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.