As It Happens

Aunt of drowned Syrian boys: 'They didn't deserve to die'

Tima Kurdi is the aunt of Alan Kurdi, the three-year-old Syrian boy whose body washed up on the shore in Turkey yesterday. His older brother, Galib, and his mother, Reham, also drowned. His father, Abdullah, survived. The family hoped to join Tima in Canada.

Warning: This story contains a graphic image of a child who died

Tima Kurdi is the aunt of two Syrian boys who drowned near Turkey, along with their mother. Her nephews were Alan, 3, and Galib, 5. (Darryl Dyck/CP and courtesy of Tima Kurdi/CP via AP)

EDITOR'S NOTE (GRAPHIC WARNING): This story contains a graphic photograph of a young boy who died, an image some viewers may find disturbing. It is embedded at the bottom of this story, after the last paragraph of text. CBC News has decided to include the photo to allow for the fullest understanding of the event, but we do want to give readers the option to not scroll down and click away if they don't want to see them.

The image of Alan Kurdi's small body washed up on the shore in Turkey has horrified people around the world. But it broke his aunt's heart.

Tima Kurdi paid for her brother and his family to take the ill-fated boat trip that left three of them dead. She told reporters today she felt she had no other choice. 

She wanted to bring the Syrian refugees to Canada. But she says the family was frustrated by official channels. So she sent her brother, Abdullah, money to pay smugglers to take them from Turkey to Greece.

Only Abdullah survived the crossing. Three-year-old Alan, his five-year-old brother, Galib, and their mother, Reham, all drowned.

"They didn't deserve to die. They were going for a better life. It shouldn't happen," Kurdi said at a press conference in B.C. today. "When the two boys died in [their father's] hands, in his arms, he tried to save them.

Tima Kurdi is the aunt of Alan Kurdi, the three-year-old Syrian boy whose body washed up on the shore in Turkey yesterday. His older brother and his mother also drowned. His father survived. She says he tried to save them, but failed. 1:55

"He said he tried with all his power to put them up [above] the water," she said. "Then when he looked in his left arm, the older boy, Galib, he was already dead. Slowly, he let him go and he said, 'I will try to save the second one, Alan.' He looked at him. There was blood coming from his eyes, so he closed his eyes and let he let him go. He looked around for his wife. She was floating in the water, like a balloon."

Abdullah Kurdi, father of 3-year-old Alan Kurdi, cries as he leaves a morgue in Mugla, Turkey today. His 5-year-old brother Galip and mother Rehan, 35, also died. ( Murad Sezer/Reuters)

Kurdi said she wanted to sponsor her relatives to come to Canada as refugees. Because of the expense, she could only afford to attempt one at a time. She applied to sponsor another brother, Mohammed Kurdi, first and failed. She says she planned to try again with Abdullah.

Fin Donnelly, the NDP candidate for Port Moody-Coquitlam, was helping Kurdi in her attempts to bring her family to Canada.

"When you see that image of the young boy and you learn what Tima tried to do back in March when I first met her, it's just heartbreaking," he tells As It Happens guest host Helen Mann.

Fin Donnelly is the NDP candidate in Port Moody-Coquitlam. He had been helping Tima Kurdi try to bring her brother and his family to Canada. (Twitter)

Donnelly says he and Kurdi wrote a letter to Immigration Minister Chris Alexander about her desire to bring her relatives to Canada -- a letter Donnelly says he hand-delivered to the minister.

"I urged him to act. And he said he would read the letter," Donnelly says. "We did hear back from [his] office, requesting further details about the family and family members, which we provided and, unfortunately, that's the last we heard."

Citizenship and Immigration Canada says it has not received a refugee application for the drowned boys' father, Abdullah Kurdi.

"We are all heartbroken . . . There can be nothing more horrific than a tragedy like this," Alexander said today on CBC TV's Power and Politics.

Alexander acknowledged he received the letter. "I personally saw it and noticed there was urgency attached to it, as I would do with anything related to Syria and Iraq," he said.

But he added his office received no formal request for asylum: "I have no report from officials of a contact with Abdullah."  

Tima Kurdi says she doesn't want her relatives' deaths to be simply laid at the feet of the federal government.

"I don't want to just blame the Canadian government. I'm blaming the whole world for this, not helping enough the refugees," she told reporters. "The end of all this is to stop the war."

A paramilitary police officer investigates the scene before carrying away the lifeless body of Alan Kurdi, 3, near the Turkish resort of Bodrum early Wednesday, Sept. 2, 2015 (AP/DHA)