'My kids are the most beautiful in the world - but they're gone now'
Published 04/09/2015 | 02:30
The father of the three-year-old Syrian boy photographed lying dead on a Turkish beach has described how their overloaded boat flipped over in the sea and he quickly realised his two sons and his wife had drowned.
The picture of Aylan Kurdi, which has been seen around the world, has highlighted the plight of desperate migrants risking their lives to try to reach Europe, a wave of migration driven by war and deprivation that is unparalleled since World War II.
Abdullah Kurdi said the boat's captain panicked due to high waves and jumped into the sea, leaving him in control of the small craft with his family and other migrants aboard.
"I took over and started steering. The waves were so high and the boat flipped. I took my wife and my kids in my arms and I realised they were all dead," he said.
The distraught father added: "All I want is to be with my children at the moment."
He said the small boat, headed for the Greek island of Kos, was overloaded with 12 migrants and the captain, described as a Turkish man. It was only at sea for four minutes before the captain abandoned the craft, Kurdi said.
"My kids were the most beautiful children in the world, wonderful, they wake me up every morning to play with them. They are all gone now," he said.
The powerful photographs of Aylan have sparked fresh debate about the deepening migrant crisis.
Abdullah's sister, Tima Kurdi, said the family - her brother Abdullah, his wife Rehan and their two boys, three-year-old Aylan and five-year-old Galip- embarked on the perilous boat journey only after their bid to move to Canada was rejected.
She had sought to get Canadian refugee status for her relatives in the Syrian town of Kobani, which was devastated by battles between Islamic State and Kurdish fighters, said Canadian legislator Fin Donnelly. Donnelly submitted the application on the family's behalf.
Canadian immigration authorities rejected the application, in part because of the family's lack of exit visas to ease their passage out of Turkey and their lack of internationally recognised refugee status, the aunt said.
Tima said she doesn't want to just blame the Canadian government, adding: "I blame the whole world" for not stopping the war.
The route between Bodrum in Turkey and Kos, just a few miles, is one of the shortest from Turkey to the Greek islands, but it remains dangerous.
Hundreds of people a day try to cross it despite the well-documented risks.
Tima Kurdi's husband, Rocco Logozzo, said Abudllah Kurdi told his sister that both boys were wearing lifejackets when the boat capsized but that the protective gear somehow slipped off when the boat flipped.
He said the family had enough money and room in his home to have provided for their relatives from Syria but hadn't been able to do so because the bid was rejected by a system that was designed to fail.
The family lost all hope when the application was denied in June and made the "bad" choice to try to get to Europe by boat, he said.
It was not immediately clear when the family left Kobani or what its movements were in Turkey. Abdullah Kurdi said the family had arrived in Bodrum from Istanbul 15 days ago.
He said he planned to take his family's remains back to Kobani for burial.
"I want the whole world to see," he said. "We went through a disaster and I don't want other people to suffer the same."
According to UN officials, more than 24,000 people arrived from northern Syria amid fighting between the Islamic State group and Kurdish militants.
Close to two million people have fled Syria for Turkey, making the country the biggest host of refugees in the world. The country complains that it is bearing the responsibility mostly on its own.
The Milliyet newspaper said in its headline: "Be ashamed world."
Canada's immigration minister suspended his re-election campaign yesterday to travel to Ottawa and look into why the Canadian government rejected the request.
A senior government official said Chris Alexander wanted to determine the facts of the case.
The tides also washed up the bodies of Rehan and Galip on Turkey's Bodrum peninsula on Wednesday. In all, 12 migrants drowned when two boats capsized.
Turkey's state-run Anadolu Agency said eight of the 12 were children. It said four suspected people-smugglers were detained yesterday on suspicion of acting as intermediaries in the illegal trafficking.
The image of Aylan's body was widely used in newspapers and on social media.
In Britain, United Nations refugee agency representative Laura Padoan said publication of the photographs may spark a major change in the public's perception of the burgeoning crisis.
"I think a lot of people will think about their own families and their own children in relation to those images," she said. "It is difficult for politicians to turn their backs on those kind of images and the very real tragedy that is happening."
Labour Party MP Ann Clywd said constituents have been calling her since the photographs appeared.
"People are horrified," she said. "People are saying, 'Please, can we do something, this is disgraceful.'"