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Little Aylan and family were seeking a new life in Canada

Aylan and Galip Kurdi
Aylan and Galip Kurdi
Aylan and Galip Kurdi
Aylan and Galip Kurdi
Abdullah Kurdi, father of boys drowned when refugee boat overturned off Turkey
Abdullah Kurdi, father of boys drowned when refugee boat overturned off Turkey

The family of two small boys whose bodies washed up on a Turkish beach were Syrian refugees who had been trying to emigrate to Canada..

Images of three-year-old Aylan Kurdi, who drowned with his brother Galip, five, and mother Rhian, lying face down on the shore have shocked the world and prompted renewed calls for  Europe to take in more refugees.

They were among at least 12 people feared dead when their flimsy boats collapsed on Wednesday as they headed from Turkey to the Greek island of Kos. The boys' father Abdullah Kurdi is thought to have survived.

Turkish media said the family had fled the besieged town of Kobani last year to escape the advance of Islamic State militants.

Aylan's aunt, Teema Kurdi, told Canadian newspaper the Ottawa Citizen that the family were the subject of a privately sponsored refugee application that was rejected because of problems with their file in Turkey.

Pictures that shocked the world

Ms Kurdi, a hairdresser in Vancouver, who emigrated to Canada more than 20 years ago, said: "I was trying to sponsor them, and I have my friends and my neighbours who helped me with the bank deposits, but we couldn't get them out, and that is why they went in the boat.

"I was even paying rent for them in Turkey, but it is horrible the way they treat Syrians there."

Ms Kurdi said she was told of the deaths by her sister-in-law, adding: "She had got a call from Abdullah, and all he said was, 'my wife and two boys are dead'."

Canadian MP Fin Donnelly said he hand-delivered the Kurdis' file to Canada's citizenship and immigration authorities but the application was rejected in June.

He told the Ottawa Citizen: "This is horrific and heartbreaking news. The frustration of waiting and the inaction has been terrible."

The newspaper reported the UN would not register the family as refugees, and the Turkish government would not grant them exit visas.

Canada and Turkey have reportedly been at loggerheads over the bottleneck blocking Syrian refugees in Turkey from finding their way to Canada. The Turkish government refuses to issue exit visas to unregistered refugees not holding valid passports.