'This is it, we're leaving': Aunt of dead migrant boy recalls final message
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Fatima “Tima” Kurdi, the aunt of the dead toddler whose body was found on a Turkish beach, gave on Thursday a harrowing account of her nephew’s last hours and called for an end to the devastating war in Syria.
correspondent in Vancouver, Canada
The tearful woman spoke to journalists from the doorstep of her home in the Vancouver suburb of Coquitlam, after pictures of 3-year-old Aylan’s lifeless body prompted outrage and sorrow around the planet.
Aylan’s 4-year-old brother, Galib, his mother Rehana, as well as nine other Greece-bound migrants also died in the boat accident off the coast of southern Turkey on Wednesday. Their father, Abdullah Kurdi, survived.
“This should not have happened, not to them,” a distraught Kurdi said, visibly shaken by the tragic news that has shattered her family. “They did not deserve to die. All they wanted was a better life.”
Originally from the war-torn city of Kobane in northern Syria, the Kurdi family was attempting to reach the Greek island of Kos in a makeshift boat. Tima Kurdi said they were thrilled and impatient to start a new life in Europe.
“There are lots of toys in Europe, right?” Galib had asked her aunt over the telephone less than two weeks ago. He dreamed of having a bicycle, and his aunt had promised to buy him one.
Kurdi says she and brother Abdullah were very close and that he constantly kept her informed of the family’s journey towards Europe. “Two or three days ago I received a text message from my brother at 3am, Turkish time. He wrote ‘This is it, we’re leaving’. I immediately sent the message to our parents in Syria, so that they would pray for them,” Kurdi remembered.
Long hours followed without any more news from her brother, even though the sea crossing was only supposed to last 30 minutes. It was then that she discovered, like millions of people around the world, the horrible and now infamous picture of a dead Syrian boy, lying face down in the surf.
Kurdi remembered thinking that the boy looked like her nephew, but she could not imagine it was really him. Then the telephone call came from her brother. The unthinkable was true.
“The sea was very rough, and the captain abandoned the boat. The people onboard panicked, some stood up and others jumped in the water,” Kurdi said, recalling her brother's words. Abdullah said he tried to steer the small boat but that it flipped. It was the middle of the night.
By the time he found his two sons and wife it was too late. “He tried to keep them in his arms as long as he could. First he realised that the oldest, Galib, was dead. So he let his body go to take care of Aylan. But he was also dead, he was bleeding from his eyes. He closed them and let his body go,” Kurdi said amid a cascade of tears.
According to Tima, Abdullah then searched for his wife Rehana: “She was there, unrecognisable, floating and bloated with water, like a balloon.”
“I told my brother that I was sorry, sorry, because I should have never sent money to help him,” Kurdi said. “He told me that it was not my fault.”
Kurdi said she has been trying for several months to bring her family to Canada, where she has lived since 1992. She obtained Canadian citizenship, and explained she had to make a choice about which of her two brothers to sponsor first.
“Financially, I could only sponsor one at a time. I chose my older brother Mohammed first, because he has four children, including a new baby, and his children have not gone to school for several years,” she said. Kurdi had even sent a letter to her local MP, Fin Donnelly, asking for his help with the asylum request.
Brother Mohammed Kurdi had filed an application to obtain refugee status, but it was recently rejected by Canada’s citizenship and immigration services because his file was deemed incomplete.
“I don’t blame the Canadian government, I blame the whole world,” Kurdi said. She hopes her family’s personal drama will help the world understand that “the war in Syria must end". For her, it is the only way to solve the migrant crisis.
Around 2,600 people have died crossing the Mediterranean Sea this year, according to the International Organisation for Migration. More than 300,000 others have survived the journey, making the migrant tide the biggest since World War II.