The jarring image of a young boy washed ashore on a Turkish beach has caused global outrage this week and forced people to fully acknowledge the severity of Europe's refugee crisis.

Wearing a bright red T-shirt and a pair of dark blue shorts, three-year-old Aylan Kurdi from Syria was found face down by the water's edge in a devastating moment in history which appears to have spurred the world into action.

With his image splashed across international newspapers and social media platforms this morning, the little boy's aunt has opened up about the plight of her nephew and his family.

Speaking to the Ottowa Citizen newspaper, Aylan's aunt Teema explained that her relatives were fleeing the war-torn Syrian town of Kobani, but were refused refugee status by the UN while the Turkish government refused grant exit visas.

Having been denied asylum in Canada, the Kurdi family fled Turkey in a desperate bid to make it to the Greek island of Kos.

Devastated by the events which caused the untimely death of her three-year-old nephew, his five-year-old brother Galip and their mother, Rihan, Teema 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."

Reflecting on the chain of events which led to their decision, she simply said: "This is why they went in the boat," 

Recalling the moment she learned of the tragedy, Teema, who is based in Vancouver, said: "She [another family member] had got a call from Abdullah, and all he said was, 'My wife and two boys are dead.'"

Aylan, his brother and his mum were three of twelve people who drowned off the coast of Bodrum on Wednesday.