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Iraq team reports on wave of migrant smuggling, families risking all

Zana Mamand sits with family members at their home in Ranya, Iraq, Nov. 30, 2021, as he displays a photo of his missing brother, Twana Mamand, who was lost at sea in the English Channel. Twana had tried and failed five times to cross the English Channel from Calais before he boarded a small boat on the evening of Nov. 23. The family fears that the 18-year-old may have drowned along with at least 26 others when their flimsy boat sank near the French coast last week. (AP Photo / Khalid Mohammed)

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Baghad reporter Samya Kullab, producer Salar Salim and chief photographer Khalid Mohammed used interviews with returnees from Europe, relatives of some who drowned in the English Channel and both smugglers and travel agents who arrange the perilous journeys, to provide a sweeping, vivid look at how northern Iraq has been shaken by the migration crisis.

The story, challenging to report, was the latest in a series by Kullab and Salim, in which they follow the troubled exodus of Iraqi Kurds who make up the majority of Middle Eastern migrants heading to Europe. Their reporting was anchored in the town of Ranya in northern Iraq, an impoverished region where the plight of the migrants is the talk of the town and smuggling networks are particularly active.

Using Salim’s excellent contacts in the Kurdish region, the team found a family that had spent days anxiously waiting for news of their young son, who was lost at sea somewhere between France and Britain. They fear that the 18-year-old may have drowned along with at least 26 others when their flimsy boat sank near the French coast last week. The story, accompanied by Mohammed’s photos and interview video for AP clients, captures the agonizing, life-changing decisions the families make, and why they risk everything for a more decent life abroad.

The reporting went further still, looking at how the smuggling networks operate. AP talked to travel agents who arrange the trips and act as middle men with the smugglers abroad.

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