Iraqi Boat Family Warns Others: Don't Risk It, It's Too Dangerous : Parallels An Iraqi family returns home and tells the story of risking a trip to Greece on a boat that sank, drowning two of their children. But images of people making the trip safely encourage others to try.
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Iraqi Boat Family Warns Others: Don't Risk It, It's Too Dangerous

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Iraqi Boat Family Warns Others: Don't Risk It, It's Too Dangerous

Iraqi Boat Family Warns Others: Don't Risk It, It's Too Dangerous

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Just as devastating as the photo of a drowned toddler are the stories of people who survived. The image of that young person fixed the world's attention on a refugee crisis in recent days. The Syrian was one of many people on a boat and not the only one who died. Iraqis were also on that craft which never reached its destination. Now surviving family members have returned to Baghdad after paying a devastating price, and they spoke with NPR's Alice Fordham.

ALICE FORDHAM, BYLINE: In a family home in a rough-edged neighborhood of Baghdad, relatives gather to mourn two drowned children. Their mother, Zainab Abbas, is pale and exhausted. She's been weeping since she returned from the attempt to get to Europe.

ZAINAB ABBAS: (Speaking Arabic).

FORDHAM: "No one told us not to go," she says, "because our financial situation is very bad." As visitors come to pay respects, she sits with her surviving daughter, Rowan. Her husband, Ahmed Jawad, his rugged face shocked with grief, tells me why he took his family on the tiny boat.

AHMED JAWAD: (Through interpreter) So the first reason that pushed me to travel is the financial reason.

FORDHAM: Jawad is an accountant who could only find work as a taxi driver. Baghdad sewage and garbage collection are terrible. Its electricity is more off than on. His three kids slept on mattresses on the floor and asked him for bedrooms.

JAWAD: (Speaking Arabic).

FORDHAM: "My son Haider - God have mercy on him - loved candy so much," Jawad remembers. But the 9-year-old knew his father couldn't afford to bring him sweets.

JAWAD: (Speaking Arabic).

FORDHAM: "He said to me, I want to pay for it with my money, not your money," says Jawad. And he adds his 10-year-old daughter Zainab was so smart at school he wished he could afford a laptop for her.

JAWAD: (Speaking Arabic).

FORDHAM: Jawad has five brothers who've been in Europe for years. They're not rich, but they're providing for their families. He thought the smuggling route had got easier and cheaper lately, so by selling his taxi and borrowing, he scraped together $20,000 and hoped for the best.

JAWAD: (Through interpreter) At the end, I decided to take this risk with the amount I have.

FORDHAM: They left on August 19 for Istanbul and made their way to Bodrum on the Turkish coast. He paid about $10,000 to a smuggler.

JAWAD: (Speaking Arabic).

FORDHAM: Dodging police, they took taxis to the seashore in the dark and climbed on a boat with nine others, including the Kurdi family who confirmed Jawad's account. The trip was meant to be 30 minutes, Jawad says. His daughter Zainab was looking at her watch and said, Dad, it's been 40 minutes. The boat stalled. It was taking on water. Jawad says their life jackets wouldn't fasten a wave pushed them overboard. Father, mother and one daughter stayed afloat and were rescued. Little Zainab and Haider got stuck under the boat and disappeared.

Their mother unwraps photographs of the children. I ask what she tells the many people in Baghdad now trying to get to Europe.

ABBAS: (Speaking Arabic).

FORDHAM: "I tell them, don't risk this. It's too dangerous." She calls the smugglers liars for taking their money and sending them to death. Iraqi TV and social media are now flooded with images of people getting to Europe safely, encouraging more and more to take the trip. But more than 2,700 people have drowned in the attempt this year. Lise Grande, the U.N.'s humanitarian chief here, says the asylum process needs overhauling.

LISE GRANDE: Certainly from the viewpoint of the United Nations, you want a process that's put in place where the dignity and safety in the voluntariness of people's movements is protected and ensured, and I don't think that's what we're seeing now.

FORDHAM: It's common in Iraq to hear of people who've applied legally for asylum or special visas and waited years for a response. Grande says that makes people desperate and pushes them to take risks.

GRANDE: And that's why I think the discussions on public policy about streamlining the process and making it more rational and making it more transparent and predictable - that's urgent, and it's necessary.

FORDHAM: But until that happens, it seems people will keep trying. One relative, even as he sat sobbing for the dead children, told me Iraq is so hopeless that he'd still risk putting his kids on a boat to Europe in the hope of a better life. Alice Fordham, NPR News, Baghdad.

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