With the burial of his family, Abdullah Kurdi abandoned any thought of leaving his homeland again.
“He only wanted to go to Europe for the sake of his children,” said Suleiman Kurdi, an uncle of the grieving father. “Now that they’re dead, he wants to stay here in Kobani next to them.”
The haunting image of the 3-year-old Aylan Kurdi washed up on a Turkish beach focused the world’s attention on the wave of migration fuelled by war and deprivation.
The bodies of the mother and the two boys were flown to a city near Turkey’s border with Syria, from where police-protected funeral vehicles made their way to the border town of Suruc and crossed into Kobani. Legislators from Turkey accompanied Abdullah Kurdi to Kobani. Journalists and well-wishers were stopped at a checkpoint some 3km from the border.
Scores of casually dressed mourners clustered around as the bodies were laid in the dry, bare earth of the Martyrs Cemetery. Clouds of dust rose as dirt was shovelled over the graves.
Some graves in the cemetery were haphazardly marked out with borders of concrete blocks.
Aylan’s body was discovered on a Turkish beach in blue shorts and a red shirt on Wednesday after the small rubber boat he and his family were in capsized. They were among 12 migrants who drowned off the Turkish coast of Bodrum that day.
The route between Bodrum in Turkey and Kos, just a few miles, is one of the shortest from Turkey to the Greek islands, but it remains dangerous. Hundreds of people a day try to cross it despite the well-documented risks.
Abdullah Kurdi said the overloaded boat flipped over moments after the captain, described as a Turkish man, panicked and abandoned the vessel, leaving Abdullah as the de facto commander of a small boat overmatched by high seas.
In a police statement later leaked to the Turkish news agency Dogan, Abdullah Kurdi gave a different account, denying that a smuggler was aboard. However, smugglers often instruct migrants that if caught they should deny their presence.
Meanwhile the family had not yet applied to enter Canada, the extended family said, despite earlier reports that their refugee application had been rejected.
“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,” the aunt of the drowned toddlers, Tima Kurdi, 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,” she said.
Abdullah’s sister, Tima Kurdi, a resident of Vancouver, said she had tried to sponsor another brother to come to Canada, but the application had been rejected. She had hoped to sponsor Aylan and his family next.
Tima Kurdi said she had spoken to her bereaved brother on the phone, and he only wanted now to return to Syria to bury his wife and sons.
“When the two boys died in his hands, in his arms, he tried to save them. When the boat flipped upside down and the waves keep pushing him down, those two boys, they were in his arms. He said he tried all his power to (hold) them up.”
At yesterday’s funeral Abdullah Kurdi said: “I want Arab governments — not European countries — to see (what happened to) my children.”
The United Nations refugee agency estimates more than 300,000 people have used dangerous sea-routes so far this year to reach Europe, with around 2,500 losing their lives.
Many of those refugees have fled Syria’s four-year civil war, in which more than 250,000 people have been killed and some 11 million — half of the country’s population — driven from their homes.
Of those displaced, some four million have fled abroad, mostly to neighbouring Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan.
Abdullah said on Thursday he wanted the world to take action to ensure that his children were the last to die.
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.”