The two small boys whose bodies washed up on a Turkish beach Wednesday were Kurdish refugees from Kobane, Syria, whose family had been desperately trying to emigrate to Canada.
Galip Kurdi, five, and his three-year-old brother Aylan died along with their mother Rehan and eight other refugees when their boat overturned in a desperate flight from Turkey to the Greek island of Kos.
The boys’ father, Abdullah, survived. His family says his only wish now is to return to Kobane with his dead wife and children, bury them, and be buried alongside them.
“I heard the news at five o’clock in this morning,” Teema Kurdi, Abdullah’s sister, said Wednesday. The telephone call came from Ghuson Kurdi, the wife of another brother, Mohammad. “She had got a call from Abdullah, and all he said was, my wife and two boys are dead.”
Teema, a Vancouver hairdresser who emigrated to Canada more than 20 years ago, said Abdullah and Rehan Kurdi and their two boys were the subject of a “G5” privately sponsored refugee application that was rejected by Citizenship and Immigration in June, owing to the complexities involved in refugee applications from Turkey.
The family had two strikes against them – like thousands of other Syrian Kurdish refugees in Turkey, the UN would not register them as refugees, and the Turkish government would not grant them exit visas.
“I was trying to sponsor them, and I have my friends and my neighbours 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 said.
Fin Donnelly, the MP for Port Moody-Coquitlam, said he’d hand-delivered the Kurdis’ file to Citizenship and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander earlier this year. Alexander said he would look into it, Donnelly said, but the Kurdis’ application was rejected in June. Alexander could not be reached for comment.
“This is horrific and heartbreaking news,” Donnelly said. “The frustration of waiting and the inaction has been terrible.”
Canada and Turkey have long been at loggerheads over the bottleneck blocking Syrian refugees in Turkey from finding their way to Canada. It is not uncommon for Kurds in Syria to be arbitrarily denied passports, and to have great difficulty registering as refugees with the UNHCR.
The Turkish government refuses to issue exit visas to unregistered refugees not holding valid passports.