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'Light at the End of the Tunnel:' Alan Kurdi's Family Has Arrived in Canada

“I want the world to remember that picture,” said Tima Kurdi, Alan's aunt. She is welcoming the boy's uncle and his family to Vancouver today.

by Justin Ling and Natalie Alcoba
Dec 28 2015, 5:50pm

Tima Kurdi, la tante d'Aylan se tient devant une peinture représentant son neveu. (Photo de Virginia Mayo/AP)

Tima Kurdi broke out into a jog, towards glass doors at Vancouver's international airport and the last thing that separated her from the family that has been on its own run, from the chaos that has consumed Syria.

One by one, her nephews and nieces, her brother Mohammad and his wife Ghousoun, clung to Tima, buried their faces in the lining of her hood, and waved little Canadian flags.

On everyone's mind, though, were the absent — Tima and Mohammad's brother, Abdullah, who survived an ill-fated voyage across the Mediterranean, and his wife and their two sons, who did not. 

It was the image of the youngest, little Alan Kurdi, lifeless and washed ashore on a Turkish beach that galvanized outrage over the crisis ravaging the region.

"My message to the refugees and to people who struggle all over the world, I'm just going to tell them, there is always a light at the end of the tunnel," said Tima to a crush of reporters who had gathered to mark the official welcome. "Keep walking until you find your light."

Domestically, the images of Kurdi's death up-ended an otherwise predictable Canadian election campaign, and knocked the incumbent Conservatives onto their heels after it was revealed that Mohammad and his family had applied for, and been denied, refugee status in Canada.

Abdullah Kurdi, Alan's father, said he attempted the trek across the Mediterranean — a stretch of water that has claimed thousands of lives since the height of the crisis in Syria — after his brother's refugee application was denied. He is not joining his brother in emigrating to Canada. Since Alan's death (whose name is sometimes spelled Aylan), 100 more children have drowned in the Mediterranean, the New York Times reported.

Image of Alan Kurdi that sparked outrage around the world/AP

The ensuing election ousted the Conservatives in Canada and brought in the governing Liberals, who committed to 25,000 Syrian refugees by March, and another 25,000 by the end of 2016.

Sometime after the election, a government official reached out to the Kurdis and asked that they re-apply.

"I want the world to remember that picture," Tima Kurdi told the Canadian Press in the days leading up to her family's arrival.

The national project undertaken by the Liberal government has meant that thousands of families like the Kurdis will be resettling in Canada over the coming years. Despite some initial setbacks, the program has been met with broad public support, clothing drives, and an outpouring of offers to sponsor the families fleeing the chaos in Syria.

Related: 'You Are Home:' Justin Trudeau Welcomes Syrian Refugees to Canada

Government assistance will provide most of the families financial support for the first year of their residency in Canada — though there have been calls to extend that time period — or until the migrants can begin earning a living wage.

Mohammed and his family likely won't receive any government assistance, as they are being sponsored by his sister. Mohammad — who worked as a barber in Syria — will be working at a hair salon owned by Tima.

Abdullah Kurdi issued a Christmas Day message to the United Kingdom, asking that they open their doors to Syria. 

He was later accused of being one of the smugglers who was piloting the boat when it capsized, but those reports haven't been confirmed and Abdullah has denounced them as lies.

Tima echoed his message of openness on Monday, as she translated for her newly-arrived relatives as they each thanked Canada emphatically, along with the Turkish government that had helped Mohammad reunite with his family. Tima said her brother and his wife want to lead a "very simple life" and hope for a better future for their children.

"I am fine now. Very fine, thank you," Mohammad told reporters. "Finally this dream come true. We almost lost hope but thank you to the Canadian government and Canadian people."

And to Abdullah, whose plight was on the family's mind during their 10-hour flight to Vancouver, Tima said, in tears: "We wish you were with us, I cannot say … but you're always here." 

Follow Justin Ling on Twitter: @justin_ling