The sad odyssey of Alan Kurdi and his family: Their search for new life ended in death

Three-year-old had only known a at war.

He was born in 2013, long after a smattering of Arab Spring-inspired protests had devolved into crackdown, rebellion, suicide bombings and anarchy.

On Alan’s birthday, at least 500 Syrian children had already been killed by the war. Another 12,000 would die before his own short life was snuffed out in the Mediterranean Sea.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/HOTHE CANADIAN PRESS/HOAlan, left, and his brother Ghalib Kurdi are seen in an undated family handout photo courtesy of their aunt, Tima Kurdi.

“They didn’t deserve to die, they didn’t deserve to die. They were going for a better life,” said Tima Kurdi, Alan’s Canadian aunt, speaking to reporters Thursday outside her Coquitlam, B.C. home.

The Kurdis — Alan, his older brother Ghalib and their parents — had been chased around Syria by the war.

Abdullah and Rehenna Kurdi had lived in the Syrian capital Damascus, but amid mounting hostilities they sought refuge in Aleppo around the time of Alan’s birth.

They arrived just in time for the government-held city to be stormed by rebels. With the metropolis soon beset by looting, urban warfare and barrel bombs flattening entire neighbourhoods, the Kurdis fled again to the border city of Kobane

Once more, their move was tragically ill-timed. They had barely arrived before 10,000 Islamic State of Iraq & the Levant (ISIL) fighters surrounded the city, kicking off a bloody six-month standoff that would capture the ’s attention.

Short stints back in Damascus and Aleppo reportedly followed, before the family decided to try their luck across the border in .

Abdullah’s brother, Mohammed, had sought to quit the region and obtain refugee status in , where their sister had immigrated in the early 1990s.

AP Photo/Mehmet Can MeralAP Photo/Mehmet Can MeralAbdullah Kurdi, 40, father of Syrian boys Aylan, 3, and Galip, 5, who were washed up drowned on a beach near Turkish resort of Bodrum on Wednesday, cries as he waits for the delivery of their bodies outside a morgue in Mugla, Turkey, Thursday, Sept. 3, 2015.

Tima said she was paying the rent for Abdullah’s family while in Turkey, but had decided to prioritize getting Mohammed to Canada, reasoning his children had gone without schooling for more than three years.

“I decided on my older brother first,” she said. “I told (Abdullah) I cannot sponsor him, so he decided to go by himself.”

Abdullah, a barber and construction worker, brought his family to Turkey’s Aegean coast, where thousands of Syrians had massed, hoping to find passage to Europe.

AP / DHAAP / DHAParamilitary police officers investigate the scene before carrying the lifeless body of Alan Kurdi, 3, after a number of migrants died and a smaller number were reported missing after boats carrying them to the Greek island of Kos capsized, near the Turkish resort of Bodrum early Wednesday, Sept. 2, 2015.

The picturesque area already bears the signs of a rapidly growing human smuggling trade said to be orchestrated largely by Syrian gangs.

In the coastal city of Izmir, shops that once sold clothing and tourist tchotchkes are now doing a brisk trade in life jackets and inner-tubes.

In the tourist resort of Bodrum, Abdullah used $5,000 wired by Tima to pay smugglers for two failed crossings to the Greek island of Kos.

The risky seas made their mark on Rehenna who told Tima by cellphone, “I’m so scared of the water.”

“If you feel like you don’t want to go, don’t go,” Tima said she replied.

Like most of the 300,000 refugees who have fled to Europe by water in recent months, the Kurdis knew the risks and had likely heard of bodies and debris washing up on Turkish and Greek beaches.

But, as another refugee in Bodrum put it, “We know it is dangerous but we have no choice. The war has killed our lives.”

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Tuesday, Abdullah’s family tried for a third time, joining seven other passengers on board an inflatable 16-foot dinghy.

Setting out at night from an isolated beach to evade the Turkish coast guard, the flimsy craft began putt-putting its way to Greece using a tiny motor.

The family was fitted out with what looked like life jackets but, as passengers would soon discover, the devices did not float.

“The life jackets we were wearing were all fake,” Abdullah later told Radio Rozana, according to a transcript by the Globe and Mail.

“We are leaving right now,” Abdullah texted his sister in Canada just before setting out. She quickly passed the message on the rest of the family, including their father in Syria, asking them to pray for his safety.

The crossing from the tip of the Bodrum peninsula to Kos is short — only about twice the distance of the Confederation Bridge to Prince Edward Island. On a tourist ferry, the longer passage from the port of Bodrum takes as little as 90 minutes.

But Teema heard nothing for more than two days. Then, at 5 a.m. Vancouver time Wednesday, more than 100 phone calls began filtering in from family in Syria and Turkey.

“Right away I knew there is something wrong,” she said.

The overloaded dinghy had encountered choppy water only 500 metres from shore, prompting its panicked skipper to jump overboard.

AP Photo/DHAAP Photo/DHAA paramilitary police officer carries the lifeless body of Alan Kurdi, 3, after he died trying to reach the Greek island of Kos.

Abdullah sprang to the controls, but water soon swamped the vessel, which deflated rapidly, spilling passengers into the sea.

“It was dark and everyone was screaming,” said Abdullah.

The 40-year-old father said he wrapped his arms around his children, and tried desperately to keep their heads above water.

“And then when he looked in his left arm the older boy Ghalib was already dead,” said Tima.

It was dark and everyone was screaming

Abdullah dropped Ghalib and focused on saving Alan, he told his sister, but soon realized the boy also lay lifeless in his arms.

The traumatized father ultimately made his way to Kos by swimming toward the lights on the shore.

A second dinghy also sank that night, adding even more victims to the estimated 2,500 migrants who have drowned while attempting to cross the Mediterranean to Europe this year.

The body of Alan, still wearing a T-red shirt and tiny sneakers, washed up during the night on a sandy beach within sight of upscale Turkish resorts.

Jason Payne/ PNGJason Payne/ PNGTima Kurdi, the aunt of two Syrian boys who drowned off Turkey, speaks to the media at her home in Coquitlam, B.C., Thursday, Sept. 3, 2015. Alan, Ghalib, and their mother Rehanna died as they tried to reach Europe from Syria.

Adil Demirtas, a barman at Bodrum’s Woxxie Hotel, was walking to work at 6:30 a.m. when he spotted the bodies of Alan and a little girl in pink pants.

‘They looked still alive, like they were sleeping, smiling a little,” Demirtas told the Mail Online.

As photographs of Alan’s body were beamed around the world, reporters converged on a broken Abdullah waiting outside the Turkish morgue that contained the bodies of his entire family.

“My wife is my world and I have nothing, by God,” he told Syrian radio.

To another reporter, he said, “My kids were the most beautiful children in the world, wonderful. They wake me up every morning to play with them. They are all gone now.”

AP Photos/Emrah GurelAP Photos/Emrah GurelThe coffins of mother Rehan Kurdi, and Syrian boys Aylan, 3, and Galip, 5, who were washed up drowned on a beach near Turkish resort of Bodrum on Wednesday, are placed in a funeral car in Mugla, Turkey, Thursday, Sept. 3, 2015. Images of Aylanís body on the beach, have heightened global attention to a wave of migration, driven by war and deprivation, that is unparalleled since World War II. (AP Photos/Emrah Gurel)

Stripped of any future for his family, the father says he has lost any ambition to flee Syria.

Kobane is still being wracked by violence. Just last month, the city’s outskirts echoed to the familiar sound of mortars and car bombs as ISIL attempted to retake it from its Kurdish defenders.

But Abdullah will return there to bury his wife and two children. Turkish officials are flying the coffins of the family to Sanliurfa, where they will be driven across the Syrian border.

“All I want is to be with my children at the moment,” he said.

Tima said in the family’s last weeks together, Abdullah would buy a banana for his two sons while coming home from a job doing casual construction work.

“He said, ‘I’m going to buy a banana every day and put it on their grave,’” she said.

National Post, with files from Postmedia News and The Daily Telegraph

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