Syrian boy's father: 'My children slipped through my hands'

  • 04/09/2015
The young boy's body being carried away from the shore
The young boy's body being carried away from the shore

The father of a three-year-old Syrian boy whose body was washed up on a Turkish beach in an image that shocked the world, says his children "slipped through my hands" as their boat took in water on its way to Greece.

Abdullah, whose surname is given by Turkish media as Kurdi, lost his three-year-old son Aylan, four-year-old son Ghaleb and wife Rihana.

"I was holding my wife's hand. But my children slipped through my hands. It was dark and everyone was screaming," he told Turkey's Dogan news agency.

"We tried to cling to the small boat, but it was deflating."

Abdullah sat outside the morgue in Bodrum on Thursday waiting for the coffins of his family to be loaded onto a municipal van.

Twelve Syrian migrants drowned on Wednesday when two boats sank in Turkish waters as they were heading towards the Greek island of Kos, in the latest tragedy to hit migrants in the Aegean.

But attention has focused on three-year-old Aylan, whose tiny body was photographed washed up on a beach at Bodrum in an image that quickly became a viral symbol of the tragedy of refugees.

In a second image, a Turkish security officer cradles the boy in his arms.

Abdullah had been trying to cross along with his family and up to three other Syrians from the flashpoint town of Kobane that last year was the subject of a months-long battle between Kurdish militias and jihadists, Turkish media said.

The Ottawa Citizen newspaper reported that the family had ultimately been trying to emigrate to Canada.

It said his sister Teema - a Vancouver hairdresser who emigrated to Canada 20 years ago - had sponsored a refugee application that Canada's immigration authorities rejected in June.

"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," the newspaper quoted Teema Kurdi as saying.

Abdullah said the boat started to take in water shortly after it set off in the dead of the night, sending the migrants on board into a panic.

"The boat started to take in water 500 metres from the shore. Our feet were wet," he said.

He tried to take hold of his children and his wife as he clung to the capsized boat, but they were quickly washed away.

"I tried to swim to the shore with the help of the lights but couldn't find my wife and children once I was there. I thought they got scared and ran away," he said.

He confirmed the family had wanted to go to Canada but now only wants to return to Kobane to bury his family.

Turkish authorities arrested four suspected people smugglers - Syrian nationals aged between 30 and 41 - over the twin accidents that killed Aylan and the 11 others.