Syrian dad buries family in war zone they died escaping

Last Updated Sep 4, 2015 10:49 AM EDT

SURUC, Turkey -- The body of three-year-old Aylan Kurdi, along with those of his five-year-old brother and his mother, was carried back across the border into Syria this morning.

Only the little boy's father, Abdullah Kurdi, survived when the small boat in which they tried to cross the Mediterranean went down in rough water, abandoned by smugglers.

The story behind the front page death of a Syrian boy

Abdullah was trying to give his sons a better life in Europe. But instead, he returned home Friday to a war zone to bury his family, days after their bodies washed up on a beach in Bodrum, Turkey.

The mother and her two sons were laid to rest in Kobani, the war-ravaged Syrian town they fled and tried to desperately to leave behind. Abdullah wanted them all to escape the bloodshed, but now his wife and sons will lie amongst the ruins of their hometown.

At first, as the heart-wrenching images of his lifeless body at the edge of the surf swept the internet, the little boy's identity was a mystery. The images provoked horror, and then outrage.

Death in the Mediterranean

Aylan was too young to understand why his parents decided to make a desperate journey to Europe, paying a human smuggler around $4,000 for a space on the over-packed rubber dinghy to try and make the perilous voyage.

Abdullah said that when the boat overturned in high seas his two sons slipped through his arms.

"They were the most beautiful children in the world," he said. "Now all I want to do is sit beside their graves."

Abdullah's sister Teemi Kurdi, who lives in Vancouver, said she gave the family money to pay the human smuggler.

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A Turkish gendarmerie stands next to the body of Aylan Kurdi, a Syrian boy who drowned in a failed attempt to sail to the Greek island of Kos, as he lies on the shore in the coastal town of Bodrum, Turkey, Sept. 2, 2015. REUTERS

"They didn't deserve to die. They didn't. They were going for a better life. It shouldn't happen," she said breaking down in tears at a news conference Thursday. "It shouldn't happen to them."

The numbers behind Europe's migration crisis

More than 300,000 people have attempted the crossing to Europe this year -- and more than 2,000 have paid with their lives, including many other children whose names and stories we still don't know.

But the images of tiny Aylan Kurdi on that Turkish beach have finally brought the tragedy home to people in Europe, and pricked the conscience of European leaders.

Under tremendous pressure from the public, British Prime Minister David Cameron -- whose country has accepted just 216 Syrian refugees to date -- said Thursday that room would be found to re-home hundreds more.

But the flow of migrants heading for European soil is unlikely to slow. There was a report Friday from the International Organization for Migration that a boat carrying as many as 140 people had sunk off the coast of Libya, another common departure point for smugglers.

Those on board were mostly Somalis, according to the IOM, and dozens were reportedly missing.