OTTAWA - The family of a Syrian boy whose dead body washed up on a Turkish beach had been trying to emigrate to Canada, a report said Thursday.
The bleak image of the lifeless toddler lying face down in the sand has become a poignant image of the plight of Syrian refugees and quickly went viral Wednesday.
He was believed to be one of at least 12 migrants who died trying to reach Greece when their boats sank in Turkish waters.
The Ottawa Citizen reported that the sister of the boy's father - reportedly the only survivor of the family of four - were the "subject of a 'G5' privately sponsored refugee application" that Canada's immigration authorities rejected 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 Teema Kurdi, a Vancouver hairdresser, as saying.
"I was even paying rent for them in Turkey, but it is horrible the way they treat Syrians there." Kurdi emigrated to Canada more than 20 years ago, according to the paper.
Ahead of October 19 elections, the struggle of Syrian refugees took center stage on the Canadian campaign trail, with Prime Minister Stephen Harper insisting he would do more if his Tories are re-elected.
Harper has come under fire for not taking in more Syrians. While Canada has agreed to resettle 20,000 refugees, as of late July it had only welcomed 1,002, according to government figures.
Canada's immigration minister, Chris Alexander, meanwhile told local television Wednesday before the publication of the photo that Canada has taken in "approximately 2,500" Syrian refugees.
On Thursday he took a break from campaigning to look into this family's case.
"Like all Canadians, I was deeply saddened by that image and of the many other images of the plight of the Syrian and Iraqi migrants fleeing persecution at the hands of ISIS (Islamic State group)," he said.
Alexander, a former ambassador to Afghanistan, added that he would meet with officials to "ascertain both the facts of the case of the Kurdi family and to receive an update on the migrant crisis." -
Refugee crisis hits campaign
At a campaign stop Thursday, Liberal leader Justin Trudeau, meanwhile, 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," he said, renewing calls for 25,000 Syrian refugees to be immediately resettled in this country.
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.
Mulcair told reporters that the image of the boy's dead body washed up on the beach, which appeared on the front page of newspapers across Canada, reminded him of a 1972 news photo of a severely burned girl running naked on a road during the Vietnam war.
"There are images that define an era," Mulcair said.
The image of that girl "became the symbol of that war. And I have to say that today's images of a young boy being picked up off of a beach in Turkey will remain with everyone for a very long time."