'I tried to save my boys': Father tells heart-wrenching story of Syrian toddler Aylan al-Kurdi

Published September 4th, 2015 - 08:10 GMT

The father of a Syrian boy found dead on a beach in Turkey has described the harrowing moments when a ship the family boarded to reach Europe sank.

"I tried to save my boys," Abdullah al-Kurdi, whose wife and two sons died in the accident, told Rozana FM, a Syrian opposition station.

Photos of his 3-year-old son Aylan washed up on the shores of the Turkish resort town of Bodrum have sparked shock and outrage.

"I held them both when the boat overturned, but a high wave first killed my oldest boy, Galip, and then another one took my youngest," the father says in a shakey, grief-filled voice. His wife Rehan also died in the accident.

The pictures of Aylan appeared on newspaper front pages around the globe, highlighting the scale of the humanitarian crisis created by the Syrian civil war, which has forced more than 4 million people to flee abroad, mainly to Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan.

The pictures also sparked a debate in Europe about whether governments were doing enough to get a grip on the refugee crisis. Thousands of migrants have died at sea while trying to reach Europe. Most deaths occurred in the Mediterranean.

"We tried several times but our attempts failed because we were caught by the Turkish Coast Guard," al-Kurdi, who worked as a hairdresser in Syria, told the radio station.

"This time I managed through the help of my sister and my father to secure 4,000 euros to make this trip," he said.

Canadian media reported that the Kurdish family wanted to join al-Kurdi's sister in Vancouver but could not get visas.

The father said the small 5-metre-long boat hit harsh waters halfway through the journey.

"Suddenly we saw the Turkish smuggler jumping in the sea and we were left alone struggling for our lives," he said. "I lingered three hours at sea until the Turkish coast guard came."

By then, his family was dead. Turkey has since arrested four people in connection with the smuggling operation.

The al-Kurdi are Syrian Kurds from Kobane, a city near the border with Turkey that was under siege by the Islamic State extremist group last year, forcing thousands to flee.

Kurdish fighters from the People's Protection Units (YPG), backed by US airstrikes, ended the siege in January, defeating the jihadist group and liberating the city and its satellite villages.

The area is in ruins and unexploded bombs pose a danger. Only a fraction of the people who fled have returned. Most are in refugee camps in southern Turkey.

"Most of the people are farmers and 70 per cent of Kobane has been destroyed," Idriss Nassan, a Kurdish official in Kobane, told dpa. He noted that people also fear Islamic State reprisal assaults.

In June, a sneak attack by the extremist group left more than 200 people, mostly civilians, dead, as the jihadist fighters gunned down people on the streets and in their homes.

The border with Turkey is often closed, making reconstruction difficult.

Before the Syrian civil war began in 2011, approximately 300,000 Kurds in the country were stateless, lacking basic identification documents, according to the International Crisis Group.

This makes it even harder for the Kurds to reach Western countries.

With Greek islands just 5 kilometres off the Turkish shore, the trip may appear simple, but riptides and the flimsy vessels the refugees use put their lives at great risk.

In addition to the war in Syria, there is tension among Kurdish political parties in the north of the country, with some Kurds fearing and fleeing the YPG. The group runs the three self-declared Kurdish cantons in northern Syria.

Rival Kurdish forces say the threat of conscription into the YPG and local defence units has spurred emigration of young people from the region, already hit by economic isolation, lack of employment prospects and high food prices.

The YPG says conscription is needed to defend the areas from attack.

Even before the war, many Kurds sought education and employment in Damascus and Aleppo. Those are no longer options.

The Kurdish areas remain under constant threat from not only the Islamic State, but also hardline Islamic rebel groups like the al-Qaeda-affiliated al-Nusra Front.

Other areas of northern Syria continue to see daily horrors, including indiscriminate barrel bombs dropped on civilians by government forces.

In Aleppo, fighting continues between government forces and rebels and between rebels and the Islamic State, which is aiming to advance deeper into the region.

© 2019 dpa GmbH

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