MUGLA, Turkey (Reuters) - 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 in Turkey, where the body of his 3-year-old son, Aylan, washed up on Wednesday.
A photograph of the boy’s tiny body in a bright red T-shirt and dark 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.
“I just want to sit next to the grave of my children and my wife and rest,” Abdullah told reporters, as his family’s coffins were loaded into a hearse.
“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,” he said.
“We want the world’s attention on us, so they can prevent the same from happening to others. Let this be the last.”
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. On their final attempt, the boat 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.
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan discussed the crisis with his French counterpart Francois Hollande, Erdogan’s office said.
“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,” Erdogan said in a speech in Ankara.
Meanwhile 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 wanted to emigrate to Canada after fleeing the war-torn town of Kobani, in northern Syria, 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. Canadian officials in the capital Ottawa said it was not true that Ottawa had offered him citizenship.
Abdullah’s sister in Vancouver said contrary to earlier reports, she had not yet tried to sponsor Abdullah or his wife and sons to come to Canada, but that she had first sponsored another brother, whose application had been rejected.
Tima Kurdi said the brother’s application was rejected because the family did not have a United Nations number which they could not obtain because they lacked Turkish identification. She said she could only afford to sponsor her brothers one at a time.
“They didn’t deserve to die, they didn‘t. They were going for a better life. That shouldn’t have happened. It shouldn’t have happened to them,” she told reporters in Vancouver, breaking down in tears.
“To be honest, I don’t want to just blame the Canadian government. I‘m blaming the whole world for this.”
Turkey has won international praise for taking in 2 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 carrying the two children who drowned 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 7-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 2 a.m. (2300 GMT) and was 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 ($2,280) 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.
Additional reporting by Tulay Karadeniz in Ankara, Humeyra Pamuk and Daren Butler in Istanbul, Julie Gordon in Vancouver and Andrea Hopkins in Toronto; Writing by Nick Tattersall and Dasha Afanasieva; Editing by Gareth Jones