Canada on Thursday denied it had received an asylum request from the family of a Syrian toddler turned symbol of Europe's migrant crisis after his little body washed up on a Turkish beach.
OTTAWA - Canada on Thursday denied it had received an asylum request from the family of a Syrian toddler turned symbol of Europe's migrant crisis after his little body washed up on a Turkish beach.
Identified as three-year-old Aylan Kurdi, the boy was among 12 migrants who died trying to reach Greece when their boats sank in Turkish waters.
The Ottawa Citizen reported that the child's family had tried in vain to join relatives in Canada -- where the government has come under fire for failing to take in more Syrian refugees.
But that was denied by the immigration ministry -- and by the boy's aunt, the source of the media report, who has since clarified her comments.
"There was no record of an application received for Mr. Abdullah Kurdi (the toddler's father) and his family," said a ministry statement. It said an application had been received for Abdullah's brother Mohammed, but "was returned as it was incomplete."
"Canada did not offer citizenship to Mr Abdullah Kurdi," which was also reported, the ministry said.
Abdullah Kurdi (R), father of three-year old Aylan Kurdi, talks on the phone at the morgue in Mugla, southern Turkey, on September 3, 2015, after a boat carrying refugees sank trying to reach the Greek island of Kos. The father of the three-year-old Syrian boy washed up on a Turkish beach September 2 whose image shocked the world said his children "slipped through my hands" as their boat was taking in water en route to Greece. The United Nations refugee agency UNHCR says more than 2,500 people have died trying to cross the Mediterranean so far this year. AFP PHOTO/OZAN KOSE
The bleak image of the lifeless toddler -- one of the four million people driven from their homes by Syria's conflict -- has gone viral since Wednesday. The boy's father is the only survivor in the family of four.
The Ottawa Citizen had cited the boy's aunt Teema Kurdi, who lives in Vancouver, as saying Aylan's family was the "subject of a 'G5' privately sponsored refugee application" that was rejected by Canada's immigration authorities in June.
"I was trying to sponsor them and I have my friends and my neighbors who helped me with the bank deposits, but we couldn't get them out, and that is why they went in the boat," the newspaper quoted her as saying.
"I was even paying rent for them in Turkey, but it is horrible the way they treat Syrians there."
Teema later told a press conference that she had not filled out an application for Abdullah and his family. She said she had sought to gain entry to Canada for the brother Mohammed, who is now in Germany.
Let one son go to save other
Reports said the child's family had fled to Turkey last year from the Syrian flashpoint of Kobane to escape Islamic State extremists.
The aunt, who says she spoke with Abdullah by telephone, gave a harrowing account of the capsize that claimed the lives of his wife and two sons.
As the boat went over, she said Abdullah emerged with the two boys in his arms but his older boy showed no signs of life, so he let him go to try to save the youngest.
"He looked at him and there was blood coming from his eyes and so he closed his eyes and he let him go too," she said in tears.
The lifeless body of his wife, who was terrified of the water, according to Teema, was floating nearby.
"They didn't deserve to die," Teema said. "They were going for a better life. It shouldn't happen, it shouldn't happen to them."
Refugee crisis hits campaign
With Canada heading to elections on October 19, the plight of Syria's refugees has become a campaign issue, with Prime Minister Stephen Harper pledging to do more if his Tories are re-elected -- while stressing the key to ending the crisis was to defeat the Islamic State group.
"If we look at the millions of people literally who are in danger and the tens of thousands dying, we could drive ourselves crazy with grief and obviously we do what we can do to help," he said.
While Canada has agreed to resettle 20,000 refugees, as of late July it had only welcomed 1,002, according to government figures.
Thomas Mulcair, leader of the New Democratic Party, which is leading in the polls, said Canada could easily take in 10,000 refugees "immediately."
"As a father and grandfather, I think it's absolutely intolerable what we're seeing now... (and it) cannot go on," he said.
At a campaign stop, Liberal leader Justin Trudeau stepped up his criticisms of the Conservatives on immigration.
"You don't get to discover compassion in the middle of an election campaign. You either have it or you don't."
Canada denies turning away drowned Syrian boy''s family