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2 Men Linked To Drowning Death Of Syrian Toddler Are Convicted Of Trafficking

Turkish paramilitary police officers escort Syrian smugglers Muwafaka Alabash (front) and Asem Alfrhad (rear) for their trial in Bodrum, Turkey.

A Turkish court has sentenced two Syrian nationals to four years in prison each in a case tied to the drowning death of Syrian toddler Aylan Kurdi and four others.

Photos of 3-year-old Aylan's body lying facedown on a Turkish beach in September 2015 produced a groundswell of global sympathy for people fleeing violence in the Middle East and North Africa, and laid bare the human cost of their dangerous journey across the Mediterranean.

However, the court in the coastal city of Bodrum "did not convict the smugglers for the deaths of Kurdi, his mother and brother and two other migrants in the Aegean sea last year," NPR's Peter Kenyon tells our Newscast unit. He adds that "the sentence came on a general human trafficking charge."

Turkey is under pressure from the European Union to crack down on trafficking. Peter has more:

"After more than a million migrants reached Europe, countries began closing their borders and telling the migrants to go back. Turkey says it's sheltering more than 2 1/2 million Syrians. European Council President Donald Tusk is in Turkey for talks with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan."

Defendants Muwafaka Alabash and Asem Alfrhad have maintained they are not responsible for the deaths, The Associated Press reports. "Instead, they blamed Aylan's father, Abdullah Kurdi, for the deaths — accusing him of organizing the trip."

Kurdi, a barber from the Syrian city of Kobani, has since returned to Syria. In December, he issued an appeal for "the whole world to open its doors to Syrians."

"If a person shuts the door in somebody's face, this is very difficult. When a door is opened, they no longer feel humiliated," Kurdi said at the time.

According to the International Organization for Migration, 418 migrants have died so far in 2016 while crossing the Mediterranean.

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