The distraught father of two Syrian toddlers who drowned with their mother and several other migrants as they tried to reach Greece identified their bodies on Thursday and prepared to take them back to their home town of Kobani.
Abdullah Kurdi collapsed in tears after emerging from a morgue in the city of Mugla near Bodrum, where the body of his three-year old son Aylan washed up on Wednesday.
A photograph of the boy’s tiny body in a bright red t-shirt and shorts, face-down in the surf, appeared in newspapers around the world, prompting sympathy and outrage at the perceived inaction of developed nations in helping refugees.
Aylan’s 5-year-old brother Galip and mother Rehan, 35, were among 12 people, including other children, who died after two boats capsized while trying to reach the Greek island of Kos.
“The things that happened to us here, in the country where we took refuge to escape war in our homeland, we want the whole world to see this,” Abdullah told reporters.
“We want the world’s attention on us, so that they can prevent the same from happening to others. Let this be the last,” he said.
In a statement to police obtained by the Hurriyet newspaper, Abdullah said he had twice paid smugglers to take him and his family to Greece but their efforts had failed. They had then decided to find a boat and row themselves but it began to take in water and when people stood up in panic, it capsized.
“I was holding my wife’s hand. My children slipped away from my hands. We tried to hold on to the boat,” he said in the statement. “Everyone was screaming in pitch darkness. I couldn’t make my voice heard to my wife and kids.”
The image of Aylan, drowned off one of Turkey’s most popular holiday resorts, went viral on social media and piled pressure on European leaders.
“European countries, which have turned the Mediterranean, the cradle of the world’s oldest civilisations, into a cemetery for refugees, shares the sin for every refugee who loses their life,” Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said.
French Prime Minister Manuel Valls took to Twitter: “He had a name: Aylan Kurdi. Urgent action required – A Europe-wide mobilisation is urgent,” he wrote.
Abdullah’s family had been trying to emigrate to Canada after fleeing the war-torn town of Kobani, a revelation which also put Canada’s Conservative government under fire from its political opponents.
Abdullah said Canadian officials had now offered him citizenship after seeing what had happened but that he declined.
His family had made a privately-sponsored refugee application to the Canadian authorities that was rejected in June due to complications with applications from Turkey, Teema Kurdi, Abdullah’s sister and a Vancouver resident, was quoted as saying by Canada’s National Post newspaper.
“I was trying to sponsor them, and I have my friends and my neighbours who helped me with the bank deposits, but we couldn’t get them out, and that is why they went in the boat,” she said.
“I was even paying rent for them in Turkey, but it is horrible the way they treat Syrians there.”
OTHER CHILDREN DROWNED
Turkey has won international praise for taking in two million refugees since the Syrian civil war began in March 2011, spending $6 billion caring for them and receiving just $400 million in outside aid.
But it has warned it is reaching capacity, and thousands are now making the perilous journey by boat from Turkey to Greece in a bid to enter Europe.
Security officials in Mugla said the bodies of Abdullah’s two sons and wife would be flown via Istanbul to the southeastern city of Sanliurfa, from where they would be taken by road to the Syrian border town of Kobani.
Kobani, the family’s hometown, has been the scene of intense fighting over the last year. In recent months Kurdish regional forces have been trying to repel attempts by Islamic State to recapture the town.
Tens of thousands of Syrians fleeing the war in their homeland have descended on Turkey’s Aegean coast this summer to board boats to Greece.
The Turkish army said its search and rescue teams had saved hundreds of migrants in the seas between Turkey and Greek islands over the last few days.
The two boats that capsized while heading to Kos were carrying a total of 23 people and had set off from the Akyarlar area of the Bodrum peninsula, a naval official said. Local authorities have detained four suspected Syrian smugglers, the Dogan news agency said.
One of the survivors, Zeynep Abbas Hadi, fainted after seeing the dead bodies of two of her children, aged 9 and 11, footage on the Dogan website showed. Her seven-year old daughter survived, the agency said.
Another survivor, Syrian Omer Mohsin, said he swam ashore after the boat sank shortly after heading off at 02:00 am (2300 GMT) and was now looking for his missing brother.
“There were supposed to be 10 people on the boat, but they put 17 people on board. Me and my brother paid 2,050 euros each,” Dogan quoted him as saying on its website.
Video footage showed the body of another young child, thought to be Aylan’s brother, also lying in the sand.
Nilufer Demir, the Dogan photographer who took the picture of Aylan, told broadcaster CNN Turk: “When I realised there was nothing to do to bring that boy back to life I thought I had to take his picture … to show the tragedy.”
“I hope the impact this photo has created will help bring a solution,” she said.
The U.N. refugee agency estimates that almost 160,000 refugees and migrants have arrived in Greece by sea since the start of 2014. In July more than 50,000 people, mostly Syrians, arrived in Greece compared with 43,500 in the whole of 2014.