A Syrian family that met a tragic end while attempting to flee their war-torn country has come to symbolize the larger refugee crisis.
Abdullah Kurdi, 40, is now mourning the deaths of his wife, Rehan, 27, and their two sons, Aylan and Galip, whom he lost during an ill-fated trip to the Greek island of Kos.
Tragic pictures of 3-year-old Aylan’s lifeless body, which washed ashore a beach in the Turkish city of Bodrum, went viral Wednesday, along with the hashtag “#KiyiyaVuranInsanlik,” or “humanity washed ashore.”
The distraught father, holding back emotion, described what happened on their journey aboard a 15-foot boat in a telephone interview with The New York Times on Thursday.
“The waves were high, the boat started swaying and shaking. We were terrified,” he told the paper. “I rushed to my kids and wife while the boat was flipping upside down. And in a second we were all drowning in the water.”
Kurdi described searching for his children in the rough water while his wife clung to the boat that had been overturned by 5-foot waves.
“I started pushing them up to the surface so they could breathe,” Kurdi said. “I had to shift from one to another. I think we were in the water for three hours trying to survive.”
The Hurriyet newspaper obtained a statement Kurdi gave to police, in which he said, “I was holding my wife’s hand. My children slipped away from my hands. We tried to hold on to the boat. ... Everyone was screaming in pitch darkness. I couldn’t make my voice heard to my wife and kids.”
Kurdi told the Associated Press that the ship’s captain panicked and abandoned the ship just four minutes into the trip.
He said the only thing he wants to do now is sit by the graves of his wife and sons.
“My kids were the most beautiful children in the world, wonderful,” he told the wire service. “They wake me up every morning to play with them. They are all gone now.”
Kurdi ultimately wanted to move his family to Canada, where he has relatives. He hoped his wife and children could enjoy a better life far from the endless violence of Syria, which has been ravaged by civil war and Islamic State jihadists. Human-rights monitors report 5,000 people were killed in Syria last month alone.
On Thursday, Kurdi emerged in tears from a morgue in Mugla, Turkey, where he had identified the bodies of his loved ones. They were among 12 people who died during the trip.
“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,” Kurdi said to 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.”