Iraqi mother looks to Turkey for help finding lost kids

By Azad Mohamed and Idris Okuducu

DOHUK, Iraq (AA) – Mahabad Ismael, an Iraqi mother who lost both her husband and eldest son while trying to make the dangerous sea crossing from Turkey to Europe, has called on the Turkish authorities to help her find her four other children — all of whom still remain unaccounted for.

In early October, Mahabad, 29, had been leading a simple life with her husband and five children in the Zakho district of Iraq’s northern Dohuk province.

Their lives, however, were about to change dramatically.

Hoping to find a better life for his family, her husband, Abdurrahman Ahmad, decided — like many other Iraqis — to try to make the perilous journey to Europe.

Without informing even their closest relatives, he and his family set out, first coming to Istanbul before moving on to Izmir, from which they hoped to secure passage to Greece.

After making arrangements with human traffickers, the family boarded the vessel on Oct. 10.

Ultimately, however, Mahabad would be the only one to survive the ill-fated journey.

The bodies of her husband and eldest son later washed up on shore, while she still doesn’t know the fate of her four other children, who range in age from five to nine years old.

Speaking to Anadolu Agency, the distressed mother lamented how her entire family appeared to have been lost because of their longing to reach Europe.

Mahabad remembers how happy they had been after reaching Turkey, describing their brief time in Istanbul as “one of the best times of my life”.

Recalling how she and her family had begun their fateful journey after meeting a human trafficker in Istanbul, she told Anadolu Agency how they were subsequently deceived.

"The trafficker told all the refugees hoping to make the crossing that he had the ‘best boat’ and that he would join us on the voyage,” she said.

“We left Istanbul for Izmir and met at the agreed-upon place,” she remembered. “Before getting on board for the journey to Greece, some other men came to pick us up.”

“First they took us into a dark room and told us to turn off our phones,” Mahabad said.

“After about 30 minutes, we were taken to where the boats were kept,” she went on. “After saying that he would accompany us, however, the lead trafficker handed us over to some other men we didn’t know.”

Shortly after the vessel set out, Mahabad said, “We realized the boat was old in very poor condition."

“Soon it began to take on water,” she added. “And not long afterward, the engine stalled.”

With several passengers trapped on the boat’s lower deck, women and children began to cry, Mahabad recounted.

"My husband tried to call the lead trafficker, but he didn’t answer,” she lamented. “About half an hour later, the boat — with about 35 souls on board — capsized.”

Mahabad spent the next 28 hours in the sea — struggling for dear life to stay above water — until the waves finally washed her ashore back in Turkey.

Police eventually found her there, while the lifeless bodies of her husband and 12-year-old son Abdullah both washed up shortly afterward.

Both bodies have since been taken back to Zakho for burial, the grieving mother said, going on to urge the Turkish authorities to help find her remaining four children: Henar, 9; Younus, 8; Youssef, 8; and Meryem, 5.

Addressing her fellow Iraqis who dream of making the voyage to Europe, Mahabad implored: "Don't put your life at risk — or those of your families — for the sake of living in Europe."

*Ali Murat Alhas contributed to this report from Ankara