The father of a Syrian toddler whose lifeless body washed up on a Turkish beach on Wednesday has spoken of the heartbreaking moment his wife and two children 'slipped from his hands'.
Abudullah Kurdi, who was father to Aylan, three, and five-year-old Galip, gave an emotional account of his family's fatal attempt to reach the Greek island of Kos and pleaded with European leaders to stem the rising death toll of refugees and desperate migrants.
“I wish I could transfer my breath to them, to breathe life into their bodies again,” a heartbroken Abdallah told HuffPost Arabi.
It also emerged his wife Rehan was scared of water and did not know how to swim. She told Abudullah's sister: "I am so scared of water. I don't know how to swim, if something happens…I don't want to go."
Images of the couple's youngest son, pictured lying dead and cradled in the arms of a gendarmerie soldier, were shared across the world this week. The picture reinforced the devastating reality of what faces refugees fleeing war and the lengths they go to in order to start a new life with their families.
It sparked a major debate in Britain, prompting a petition calling for David Cameron to accept more Syrian refugees fleeing their war-torn home nation to garner more than 100 signatures a minute.
An image of Abdullah Kurdi, and his sons Aylan and Galip, sent to me by a family friend. Heartbreaking. pic.twitter.com/5s7RuY41ZT— Hussein Kesvani (@HKesvani) September 3, 2015
Abudullah and his family set off from the Turkish town of Bodrum in a crowded dinghy, but the vessel capsized mid-way through their journey.
The pitch black night was pierced with their screaming voices, Abdullah recounted, while he tried desperately to save his family.
He searched the waters for them for hours, but only discovered they had died after attending a hospital in Turkey.
“We spent a whole hour holding onto the boat. My children were still alive. The first one died because of the raging waves. I had to leave him to save my second son, who also drowned. I turned around to find that their mother had drowned as well,” he said.
“Poverty” is the word that Abdallah used to describe the reason he and his family didn’t have lifejackets, adding: “Gathering the costs for fleeing wasn’t easy, and I couldn’t secure the price of the life jackets.”
He told the Daily Mail: "I want to lie in a grave next to them.
"I just wanted a better life for them, that's why I left. I just hope this photo changes everything."
The haunting image of Aylan's small body washed up have since prompted a worldwide debate on the refugee crisis engulfing Europe.
On Thursday, Abdullah waited for the arrival of his family's bodies at a morgue in Mugla, in Southern Turkey.
Despite hopes of starting a new life in Canada with his family, Abdullah now says he just wants to take his children home to Kobane and stay with them forever.
The BBC's Fergal Keane reported that Abdullah told him: "I just want to see my children for the last time and stay forever with them."
The Kurdish Syrian, who was living in Turkey for three years, was trying desperately to reach Canada, where his sister had been living for more than two decades.
Abdullah's sister, Teema Kurdi, a hairdresser living in Vancouver, said she had received a phone call on Wednesday from a relative who said Abdullah had told them his wife and two boys were dead.
“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,” Teema told the Ottawa Citizen.
“I was even paying rent for them in Turkey, but it is horrible the way they treat Syrians there.”
Abdullah and his family reportedly had their refugee application rejected by Canadian officials in June.
Canada's immigration minister has reportedly suspended his re-election campaign to travel to Ottawa and look into why the Canadian government rejected the request.
Since the tragedy, the Canadian government has offered Abdullah citizenship so he can join his sister in the country, but he has declined.
Abdullah and his family had reportedly been forced to move several times during the Syrian conflict, before leaving the war-stricken state in 2012.
Mustefa Ebdi, a journalist in Kobani, said the correct family name was Shenu, but that Kurdi had been used in Turkey because of their ethnic background.
Ebdi told AFP: “They left Damascus in 2012 and headed to Aleppo, and when clashes happened there, they moved to Kobani. And again, when clashes [with Islamic State] happened there, they moved to Turkey.”
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