Surviving family members of Aylan Kurdi have revealed how the Syrian three-year-old came to be washed up dead on a beach in Turkey.
Aylan’s distraught father, Abdullah Kurdi, tried and failed to hold on to his wife and two sons after their boat to the Greek island of Kos capsized. He has reportedly now said his only wish is to return their bodies to their home town of Kobani and then “be buried alongside them”.
The family had been making the treacherous journey across Turkey to Europe in the hope of joining Abdullah’s sister, Teema Kurdi, a hairdresser who has lived in Vancouver, Canada for more than 20 years.
Speaking to National Post’s Terry Glavin, Kurdi said she had learned of Aylan’s death, as well as that of his brother Galip and mother Rihan, at 5am on Wednesday morning. The images of Aylan emerged in Turkish media at around midday, and have since sparked international outrage over the refugee crisis.
Glavin told BBC Radio 5 live on Thursday that Kurdi had heard from family members about Abdullah’s desperate battle to save his family in the sea.
“There’s a terrible story he told about swimming from one to the other, finding one (son) who seemed to be alright and then going to another, finding him drowned … and then going back to the first boy and finding him drowned,” he said.
“He made it, but his wife didn’t.”
BBC’s Fergal Keane has spoken to Abdullah at the mortuary in Turkey where the bodies were taken.
“I just want to see my children for the last time and stay forever with them,” Abdullah said.
The Turkish government has reportedly said it will repatriate the bodies to Kobani. Officials said the family’s name was in fact Shenu, though Kurdi was widely used in Turkish media.
Jenan Moussa, a journalist with Dubai’s Al Aan TV, said she had confirmed with sources in Kobani that the Kurdish family hailed from the recently-embattled Syrian city.
She said Abdullah was a barber originally from Damascus, who fled from Kobani to Turkey but “dreamed of a future in Canada” for his family.
“Abdullah paid 4000 (£2900) for his family to get on a 5m-long dinghy from Bodrum to Greece. He borrowed money. This was not their first attempt to get to Greece. When in the dinghy, the sea got rough. Turkish smuggler abandoned boat, left passengers struggling. Boat capsized after one hour. After it capsized, the family clung to the boat. Mr Abdullah tried to hold his two children and wife with his arm, but one by one they were washed away by waves,” she said.
According to Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency, police have detained four suspected human traffickers one day after the three members of the Kurdi family and nine other refugees died in the short Aegean straight between Turkey and Kos.
Officers said the men were detained on a beach on Turkey’s Bodrum peninsula and, according to Anadolu, they were suspected of acting as intermediaries for illegal crossings.
Three other children drowned in the same crossings as Aylan and his family, while seven people were rescued and two reached the shore in life jackets.
Thousands are making the same journey from Turkey to Greece’s easternmost islands each day. It is considered one of the safest routes to Europe and beyond.
The majority are from Syria though some have also fled Afghanistan and Iraq. The UN’s refugee agency, the UNHCR, says the number crossing the Mediterranean has now exceeded 300,000 this year.