Images of a 3-year-old boy wearing a red T-shirt and blue shorts spread like wildfire through social media, in a heart-rending symbol of the mortal risks faced by tens of thousands of desperate refugees fleeing the war in Syria.
The Kurdish boy who washed up on the beach was identified by Turkish officials as 3-year-old Aylan Kurdi.
He was in one of two boats carrying a total of 23 people that set off separately from the Akyarlar area of Turkey’s Bodrum peninsula, Reuters news agency reported.
The boats apparently headed to the Greek island of Kos, where they could have attempted to enter the European Union. Reports suggested that their ultimate destination was Canada.
Officials said, the boat was capsized, and Aylan washed up a few miles to the northeast in Turkey, not far from a beach resort. The dead included five children, among them Aylan’s 5-year-old brother and his mother Rihan, 35.
Seven were rescued, and two reached the shore in life jackets. According to the Ottawa Citizen, the boy’s father, Abdullah, survived.
Meanwhile, AFP news agency quoted a journalist as saying that Aylan’s family had been repeatedly displaced by Syria’s brutal four-year war.
Mustefa Ebdi, a journalist in the family’s original hometown of Kobane on the Turkish border in northern Syria, said Aylan’s family had been living in Damascus but been forced to flee the war’s instability multiple times.
“They left Damascus in 2012 and headed to Aleppo, and when clashes took place there, they moved to Kobane. And again, when clashes (with Takfiri ISIL group) happened there, they moved to Turkey,” Ebdi, who spoke with a family friend hosting Aylan’s devastated father, told AFP.
ISIL militants launched a fierce offensive to seize Kobane in late 2014, but were pushed back in January by Kurdish fighters.
The family returned to Kobane, hoping it would be stable enough to resume their lives there, Ebdi said.
But in June, ISIL terrorists re-entered the flashpoint town, holding hostages in several buildings in a two-day stand-off that left more than 200 civilians dead.
Insecurity forced the family to decide they had no alternative but to try to reach Europe from Turkey, said Ebdi.
He said they stayed in Bodrum for one month, saving money and borrowing from relatives for the journey.
“They left to try to find a better life.”