When Kaiwan Hussein, a 26-year-old from Iraqi Kurdistan, arrived in Germany on Nov. 23 after he slipped across the European Union border from Belarus, he sent a one-word WhatsApp message to his brother back home saying "OK.”

That was a signal for the family to authorize the release of a $3,500 payment to a smuggler contact, who Hussein knew only by the nickname ‘Nato,’ that was being held in a money transfer shop in his hometown of Ranya.

Hussein’s planned onward trip to northern France and then Britain was interrupted after he sent the message when German police intercepted him in the east German border town of Gorlitz, the biology graduate said. After several days at a migrant center he continued his journey, but Hussein said he believes the delay saved his life: he thinks he would have been on a dinghy that deflated while crossing the English Channel on Nov. 24 killing 27 migrants, based on the timing and location of its departure.