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Relatives of Alan Kurdi arrive in Canada

Abdullah Kurdi was offered Canadian citizenship soon after losing his wife and children, but initially declined the offer
Abdullah Kurdi is pictured on 8 September 2015 (AFP)

Relatives of Alan Kurdi - the toddler whose limp body was photographed on a Turkish beach this year, becoming a heartbreaking symbol of the Syrian refugee crisis - arrived on Monday in Canada where they hope to rebuild their lives.

Canadian media showed the boy's aunt Tima Kurdi, who now lives in Vancouver after emigrating to Canada in 1992, in tears as she welcomed her brother Mohammed, his wife Ghousun and their three children at the airport.

"Thank you to the Canadian people," she said.

"Thank you to our Prime Minister (Justin) Trudeau for opening the door and showing the world how everyone should welcome refugees and save lives. Thank you very much for doing this."

Abdullah Kurdi lost his wife Rehana and his two sons, three-year-old Aylan and five-year-old Galip, when their boat capsized 500 metres from the coast of Greece.

The Kurdi family had fled from their hometown of Kobane in Syria, and were trying to leave Turkey to go to Canada.

“I was holding my wife’s hand,” Kurdi told Turkey’s Dogan news agency. “But the children slipped through my hands. We tried to cling to the small boat, but it was deflating. It was dark and everyone was screaming. I couldn’t make my voice heard to my wife and kids.”

Rehana, Aylan and Galip were among the 12 people who drowned after two boats carrying 22 people capsized.

"I tried to swim to the shore with the help of the lights but couldn't find my wife and children once I was there. I thought they got scared and ran away," he said. 

"When I couldn't find them in our meeting point in [Bodrum] where we normally meet, I went to the hospital and got the bad news." 

Kurdi was offered Canadian citizenship immediately after the tragedy but initially declined the offer.

The refugee policy became a political issue some months back, when the Canadian government earlier was accused of refusing asylum to some members of the family who since drowned. Ottawa said it never received the applications.

Trudeau's Liberal government has pledged to resettle 25,000 Syrian refugees by the end of February. 

The prime minister earlier this month personally welcomed the first group to arrive at the Toronto airport aboard a military transport plane.