The story behind the images that shocked Europe

Last Updated Sep 4, 2015 10:35 AM EDT

ANKARA, Turkey -- He is one among many, far too many. But the plight of one boy, washed up like a piece of debris on a Turkish beach, has focused the world's attention on a wave of war-and-deprivation-fueled migration unmatched since World War II.

Aylan Kurdi, 3, was found on a Turkish beach in sneakers, blue shorts and a red shirt after the small rubber boat he and his family were in capsized in a desperate voyage from Turkey to Greece.

Aylan died along with 5-year-old brother Galip and his mother, Rehan, leaving their distraught father, Abdullah, to cope with his sudden, overwhelming loss. He said Thursday he wanted one thing and one thing only: to sit by the graves of his wife and children.

"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," he said.

A Canadian legislator said the family, fleeing the conflict in Syria, had been turned down in a bid for legal entry to Canada even though it had close relatives there offering financial backing and shelter, but Canada's Department of Citizenship and Immigration later denied that assertion.

"There was no record of an application received for Mr. Abdullah Kurdi and his family," the department said in a statement, indicating that a bid for another member of the family, Mohammad Kurdi, had been returned as incomplete.

Tima Kurdi of Vancouver, who is Abdullah's sister, initially told Canadian media that the family had embarked on the perilous boat journey only after its bid was rejected. She later said, however, that no formal request for refugee status had been made on Abdullah Kurdi's behalf, saying one was filed, and rejected, on another relative's behalf. She also gave a different transliteration for the boys' names, calling them Alan and Galib.

Accounts of events changed several times Thursday as information flowed in from several parts of the world. Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said some early accounts contained inaccurate information.

Describing the tragedy, Abdullah Kurdi said the overloaded boat flipped over moments after the captain, described as a Turkish man, panicked and abandoned the vessel, leaving Abdullah as the de facto commander of a small boat overmatched by high seas.

"I took over and started steering. The waves were so high and the boat flipped. I took my wife and my kids in my arms and I realized they were all dead," he said.

The distraught father, who worked as a barber in Syria, added wistfully: "All I want is to be with my children at the moment."

Abdullah Kurdi, father of three-year old Aylan Kurdi, cries as he leaves a morgue in Mugla, Turkey
Abdullah Kurdi, father of three-year old Aylan Kurdi, cries as he leaves a morgue in Mugla, Turkey, September 3, 2015.
REUTERS

Abdullah Kurdi said the boat, headed for the Greek island of Kos, was only at sea for four minutes before the captain abandoned the vessel and its 12 passengers.

The route between Bodrum in Turkey and Kos, just a few miles, is one of the shortest from Turkey to the Greek islands, but it remains dangerous. Hundreds of people a day try to cross it despite the well-documented risks.

Tima Kurdi's husband, Rocco Logozzo, told The Canadian Press that Abudllah Kurdi told his sister that both boys were wearing lifejackets when the boat capsized but that the protective gear somehow slipped off when the boat flipped.

He said the family had enough money and room in his home to have provided for their relatives in Syria but hadn't been able to do because the bid was rejected by a system that was designed to fail.

The family lost all hope when the application was denied in June and made the "bad" choice to try to get to Europe by boat, he said.

Tima Kurdi had sought to obtain Canadian refugee status for her relatives in the Syrian town of Kobani, which was devastated by battles between Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militants and Kurdish fighters, said Canadian lawmaker Fin Donnelly. He submitted the application on the family's behalf.

Canadian immigration authorities rejected the application, in part because of the family's lack of exit visas for their departure from Turkey and their lack of internationally recognized refugee status, the aunt told the Ottawa Citizen.

Canada's Immigration Minister Chris Alexander suspended his re-election campaign to travel to Ottawa on Thursday to determine the facts of the case, a senior government official said.

Hours later, the department said no request had ever been made for Abdullah Kurdi's family.

The plaintive photograph of lifeless Aylan Kurdi, seen around the world, has highlighted the plight of desperate migrants risking their lives to try to reach Europe, sparking fresh calls for countries to do more to ease their passage.

More than 300,000 migrants -- many families like the Kurdis among them -- have poured into Europe this year already. Much of the focus this week has been on the plight of thousands who made it as far as Hungary, but then found themselves barred from traveling on to wealthier nations to the west and north when officials suddenly stopped trains.

CBS News correspondent Charlie D'Agata was on one of the few trains that were eventually allowed to leave the station in Budapest Thursday carrying hundreds of exhausted, disillusioned people. The people on board had camped at or around the station for about a week, some without eating for days.

When police unexpectedly dropped their barricade on Thursday, hundreds clamored to get aboard the trains, but quickly became angry when they realized they were only heading for refugee camps elsewhere in Hungary.

In Britain, U.N. refugee agency representative Laura Padoan said publishing the photos may bring a major change in the public's perception of the crisis.

"I think a lot of people will think about their own families and their own children in relation to those images," she said. "It is difficult for politicians to turn their backs on those kind of images and the very real tragedy that is happening."

The tide also washed up the bodies of Rehan and Galip on Turkey's Bodrum peninsula Wednesday. In all, 12 migrants drowned when two boats capsized.

They represent only a small fraction of the uncounted number of would-be refugees who have died at sea in recent months as the conflicts in the Middle East have intensified.

Turkey's state-run Anadolu Agency said eight of the 12 drowned migrants were children. Four people were detained Thursday on suspicion of acting as intermediaries in the illegal trafficking, the agency said.

It was not immediately clear when the family left Kobani or what its movements were in Turkey. Abdullah Kurdi said the family had arrived in Bodrum from Istanbul 15 days ago.

He said he planned to take his family's remains back to Kobani for burial.

"I want the whole world to see," he said. "We went through a disaster and I don't want other people to suffer the same."

According to U.N. officials, more than 24,000 people arrived from northern Syria amid fighting between the Islamic State group and Kurdish militants.

Close to 2 million people have fled Syria for Turkey, making the country the biggest host of refugees in the world. The country complains that it is bearing the responsibility mostly on its own.

The Milliyet newspaper said in its headline: "Be ashamed world."

In Britain, Labour Party legislator Ann Clwyd said constituents have been calling her since the photographs appeared.

"People are horrified," she told The Associated Press. "People are saying, 'Please, can we do something, this is disgraceful.'"

British lawmaker Nadhim Zahawi said on Twitter that the picture should "make us all ashamed."

"I am sorry little angel, RIP," he wrote.