Channel 4’s Alternative Christmas Message will be delivered this year by the father of a three-year-old boy whose drowning on a Turkish beach came to symbolise the plight of Syrian refugees.
Abdullah Kurdi will use the platform to plead for “a little bit of sympathy” for those who are merely “seeking peace and security”.
The death of his son, Aylan, in September inspired a media outcry which is credited with transforming public opinion on refugees fleeing the crisis in Syria.
The Independent put the haunting picture of the drowned toddler on its front page and the tragedy became the subject of a social media storm. Researchers at Sheffield University found that pictures of Aylan – taken by a Turkish press photographer, Nilufer Demir – were the subject of 53,000 tweets per hour on Twitter, appearing on 20 million phone and computer screens around the world in a 12-hour period.
Politicians were moved to act. David Cameron announced that the UK would take “thousands” more Syrian refugees and that further aid would be provided to camps in Syria, Turkey, Jordan and the Lebanon.
In his Channel 4 address, Mr Abdullah – who also lost his wife, Rehanna, and five-year-old son, Galeb, as the family tried to reach Greece on an overcrowded inflatable craft which capsized – will appeal for the world to do much more.
“We Syrians leave our country due to war. We all are afraid for our children, for our honour. There are barrel bombs, explosions and also Daesh [Isis]. We have hundreds of thousands of problems,” he says.
“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. When a door is opened they no longer feel humiliated.”
His words are interspersed with footage of the refugee crisis and the dangerous Mediterranean crossings from Libya to Italy and from Turkey to Greece.
“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,” he says. “We ask just for a little bit of sympathy from you.”
Mr Kurdi is a Kurdish Syrian who had been in Turkey for three years but returned to his home city, Kobani, to bury his family.
At the time of the funeral he said he had “buried my soul along with my sons”. He currently lives in Irbil in Iraq, and has plans to start a charity project running a hospital and school for Syrian Kurds.
The Channel 4 Alternative Christmas Message will be broadcast on Christmas Day at 3.35pm.
The tradition – an alternative to the Queen’s annual televised message to the nation – began in 1993.
The message has previously featured the then President of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the American whistleblower Edward Snowden, the writer Quentin Crisp, the human rights campaigner the Rev Jesse Jackson, the campaigners Doreen and Neville Lawrence, and 9/11 survivor Genelle Guzman. Last year’s message was delivered by William Pooley, a British nurse who survived Ebola.
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