TIME

LIVING IN LIMBO

DNA tests could help migrants identify loved ones separated at sea. But politics stands in the way
Walid Khalil Murad waits in the foyer of his German-language school in Sankt Wendel, a southern German town, on July 25

When Walid Khalil Murad drifts off to sleep, he can feel the warmth of his three small children in bed beside him. They are there in his dreams too, playing happily together. There is 3-year-old Nishtiman, with eyes like her father’s and the same stubborn spirit, and his sons Nashwan, 5, and Nashat, 6, all battling for a place on Murad’s lap. He can touch them, talk to them, and he is as happy as he has ever been.

Then Murad wakes up, and they are gone. Sometimes he cries. Sometimes he drinks. Sometimes he thinks about the life jacket that kept him afloat as he drifted away from the sinking boat just a few kilometers from the Greek coast, and how he imagines he had slipped it off and sunk to the bottom of the Aegean Sea along with everything he loved.

He tried to tug his life jacket off that cold, dark morning in December 2015 when he realized that the smuggler’s boat had gone beneath the waves with his family still trapped in the cabin. The men had been traveling on the deck and were flung into the rough seas, powerless to help the women and children as they sank along with the capsized vessel.

A friend also in the water shouted over the waves at him to stop—maybe the Greek coast guard would come soon, maybe his family would be saved, maybe they would have a happy life in Europe. But none of those maybes came true. Murad has never seen Nishtiman, Nashwan, Nashat or his wife Jinar again.

“I am lost,” says Murad, 34, who owned two shops in the Iraqi city of

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