Somewhere between Turkey and Greece, the boat carrying Abdullah Kurdi and his family was filling with water. They wore life vests, and Kurdi was holding his wife’s hands, he later recalled. His children, 3-year-old Aylan and 5-year-old Galip, were seated nearby.

As the small boat began to sink, passengers panicked.

“My children slipped from my hands,” Abdullah told Turkey’s Dogan News Agency on Thursday. “We tried to hold on to the boat, but it deflated rapidly. Everyone was screaming. I could not hear the voices of my children and my wife.”

Abdullah swam to a beach on the Turkish coast, following the lights on the shore, he said. “I looked for my wife and children on the beach but couldn’t find them.”

By now, the world knows that his two sons and wife had drowned, along with nine other migrants. A photograph of Aylan’s tiny body washed up on a beach has gone viral, shocking the world and starkly illustrating the plight of those caught in the conflicts raging in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Africa. These concurrent crises have produced the largest displacement of people since World War II.

By Thursday, the Kurdis’ tragedy had spawned soul searching among world leaders and politicians about the international community’s efforts to help the tens of thousands of refugees streaming into Europe and elsewhere.

The hand-wringing was most acute in Canada, amid initial reports by local media that the Kurdis had been denied asylum there, prompting their desperate boat voyage toward the Greek island of Kos. There were reports that Abdullah’s sister in Vancouver, B.C., who has lived in Canada for two decades, had tried to sponsor the family. But the sister, Teema Kurdi, later said she had not yet applied on behalf of Abdullah and his family and had sent them money instead.

Canadian politicians on Thursday stopped their election campaigning to weigh in on how their country could better assist refugees. Tom Mulcair, leader of the New Democratic Party, said, “Enough is enough. We cannot continue to see these images,” he said.

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