As the sun sets over Baghdad, Mustafa Jassim Mohammed wades into the Tigris River, lifts his feet off the muddy bottom and paddles with an arm maimed by shrapnel, practicing ahead of a journey on which his ability to swim could mean the difference between death at sea and a new life in Europe.
He knows that hundreds of migrants – men, women and children – have died when their smuggler boats capsized, and he’s seen the heart-wrenching pictures of the drowned Syrian boy who washed ashore in Turkey last week. But he’s also seen TV footage of thousands of migrants making their way across Europe and being welcomed in certain quarters. After more than a decade of chaos and war in his homeland, it’s a gamble he’s willing to take.
“The situation in Iraq is getting worse every day,” said Mohammed, a 29-year-old father of two. “I’m fed up. I can’t continue living here and can’t feed my family. There’s nothing left in Iraq.”