Aylan Kurdi’s father, the 3-year-old Syrian boy photographed lying dead on a Turkish beach, has described how their overloaded boat flipped over in the sea and he quickly realized his two sons and his wife had drowned.

The picture of Aylan Kurdi, which has been seen around the world, has highlighted the plight of desperate migrants risking their lives to try to reach Europe, a wave of migration driven by war and deprivation that is unparalleled since World War II.

Aylan Kurdi’s father, Abdullah, said Thursday that the boat’s captain panicked due to high waves and jumped into the sea, leaving him in control of the small craft with his family and other migrants aboard.

“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 Aylan Kurdi’s father added:

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

Aylan Kurdi’s father said the small boat, headed for the Greek island of Kos, was overloaded with 12 migrants and the captain, described as a Turkish man. It was only at sea for four minutes before the captain abandoned the craft, Kurdi 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,” he said.

The powerful photographs of Aylan have sparked fresh debate about the deepening migrant crisis.

Abdullah’s sister, Teema Kurdi, said the family – her brother Abdullah, his wife Rehan and their two boys, 3-year-old Aylan and 5-year-old Galip- embarked on the perilous boat journey only after their bid to move to Canada was rejected.

She had sought to get Canadian refugee status for her relatives in the Syrian town of Kobani, which was devastated by battles between Islamic State and Kurdish fighters, said Canadian legislator Fin Donnelly. Donnelly 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 to ease their passage out of Turkey and their lack of internationally recognized refugee status, the aunt, she told the Ottawa Citizen.

Canada’s immigration minister Thursday suspended his re-election campaign to travel to Ottawa and look into why the Canadian government rejected the request. A senior government official said Chris Alexander wanted to determine the facts of the case.

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

Turkey’s state-run Anadolu Agency said eight of the 12 were children. It said four suspected people-smugglers were detained Thursday on suspicion of acting as intermediaries in the illegal trafficking.

The image of Aylan’s body was widely used in newspapers and on social media, leading some lawmakers to demand action.

In Britain, United Nations refugee agency representative Laura Padoan said publication of the photographs may spark a major change in the public’s perception of the burgeoning 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.”

Labour Party legislator Ann Clywd 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.’”

Lawmaker Nadhim Zahawi said on Twitter that the picture should “make us all ashamed.”

“I am sorry little angel, RIP,” he wrote.

AP contributed to this article.

Aylan Kurdi’s father recounts moment his boat capsized

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