When the sun rose, Mohamed, a lanky 27-year-old sitting in a dinghy on the Mediterranean Sea, saw the awful truth. All around him, waves swung in sickening time, and there was no land in sight. Packed in with some 50 fellow migrants from his home country of Syria, Mohamed had been tossed by the sea for hours in an inflatable raft meant to hold half as many people. The boat’s engine had fallen off during the night, and they were drifting.
Mohamed, whose name has been changed to protect his identity, reached for his smartphone, one of a pair he had received as a gift from a cousin who suggested he pawn them for cash. The iPhone 5 was wrapped in layers of resealable plastic, Mohamed’s attempt at waterproofing. He now saw something miraculous: a row of dots on the upper left side of its face. Somehow, in the churn of waves, the phone was catching a signal.