The toddler whose body washed up on a Turkish beach Wednesday was a Syrian-Kurdish refugee whose family was desperately trying to reach North America, even though Canada had rejected their request for asylum.
The image of a policeman cradling the body of three-year-old Aylan Kurdi on a Turkish beach has triggered horrified reactions as the tragedy of Europe’s burgeoning refugee crisis hits home.
Aylan drowned along with his mother and 5-year-old brother and at least a dozen others when the overloaded boat they were traveling in capsized during an attempt to reach the Greek Island of Kos. Images of Aylan lying face down in the surf at one of Turkey’s main tourist resorts sparked horror across the globe, with many demanding Europe ease the path for the thousands of refugees fleeing war.
Another 15 people were rescued from the boat, including the father of the family, Abdullah. According to the report, he said he now wishes to return to bury his family in their hometown.
Canadian legislator Fin Donnelly told The Canadian Press that a Vancouver-area woman had sought to sponsor the mother and two children but that her request was turned down by immigration officials.
The Ottowa Citizen quotes Aylan’s aunt, who immigrated to Vancouver over two decades ago, as saying that the Kurdi family’s privately funded refugee application had been rejected by Canadian Citizenship and Immigration Department in June, due to the catch 22-like dilemma displaced Syrians face.
Like thousands of other refugees in Turkey, they were not registered as refugees by the UN refugee agency, and the Turkish government does not to grant exit visas to unregistered refugees without valid passports.
“I was trying to sponsor them, and I have my friends and my neighbors who helped me with the bank deposits, but we couldn’t get them out, and that is why they went in the boat. I was even paying rent for them in Turkey, but it is horrible the way they treat Syrians there,” Teema Kurdi said.
Aylan and his family were traveling on a tiny boat built for four people but thought to have been carrying 15 refugees. The family is believed to be from the Syrian Kurdish town of Kobani to have fled to Turkey last year to escape Islamic State extremists.
— David Clinch (@DavidClinchNews) September 2, 2015
While the escalating migrant crisis has exposed deep divisions in the EU’s policy, the plight of Syrian refugees took center stage on the Canadian campaign trail this week, with Prime Minister Stephen Harper insisting that he would do more to help if his Tories are re-elected.
Harper has come under fire for not welcoming more Syrians fleeing their country’s deadly conflict. Canada agreed to resettle 20,000 refugees, but, as of late July, had only welcomed 1,002, according to government figures.
“As long as we have organizations like ISIS or the so-called Islamic State, creating literally millions of refugees and threatening to slaughter people all over the world, there is no solution to that through refugee policy,” Harper said. “We have to take a firm and military stance against ISIS and that’s what we’re doing.”
Canada joined the US-led coalition fighting the extremist group in November 2014, adding airstrikes on targets in Syria the following year.
AP contributed to this article