VANCOUVER, British Columbia (AP) — Dozens of white balloons drifted over Vancouver’s harbor on Saturday to honor the young Syrian boys whose deaths at sea sparked worldwide outrage about the refugee crisis.
The boys’ aunt, Tima Kurdi, stood looking at the sky after she and other mourners let go of the balloons, which had photos attached of 3-year-old Alan and 5-year-old Ghalib.
With tears in her eyes, she tossed a bouquet of yellow flowers into the water.
Kurdi said she hopes to bring the rest of her family to Canada, which she made home more than two decades ago.
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Her brother, Abdullah, isn’t ready to leave his Syrian hometown of Kobani, where his sons and wife Rehanna were buried on Friday, Kurdi said. They drowned after piling into an overloaded boat in Turkey headed for the Greek island of Kos. Her brother was among the few survivors.
“One day, I will bring him here. He cannot be by himself there,” Kurdi said.
Family, friends and strangers on Saturday packed a small theater for a memorial service.
Kurdi tearfully recalled the last phone call Ghalib ever made to his grandfather, the night before he boarded the boat.
“He said to him, ‘Can you bring your truck here and take me? I don’t want to go with them to the water,'” she said.
Kurdi said his grandfather reassured Ghalib not to worry and that he’d be OK. In the background, he could hear Alan laughing. “He never cried, Alan. He always laughed. He doesn’t know how to cry.”
Kurdi has said she wanted to bring both her brothers to Canada, but she applied first for her eldest sibling Mohammed, whose application was rejected because it was incomplete. Kurdi said she doesn’t blame the Canadian government.
She said the failed application prompted Abdullah to embark on the journey with his family. She said she sent him $5,000 to pay smugglers to take them in a boat.
“I blame myself because my brother does not have money,” she said.
She said the trip was the “only option” left for the family to have a better life in a European country. They were fleeing horrors in Syria, where militants from the Islamic State group had beheaded one of her sister-in-law’s relatives.
Kurdi spoke to both her brothers by phone on Friday. Her grieving brother is proud of his children for becoming a symbol of the dire situation facing Syrian refugees and hopes to see leaders step in to end human smuggling, she said.
“He said, ‘I don’t need anything from this world anymore. What I have is gone.’ But my kids, and my wife, it’s a wake-up call for the world. And hopefully they step in and help others.”