Monday, 10 November 2014

Amina’s flight

This article was published by the UNHCR*.

“You can’t do anything with empty hands,” says Amina, an Afghan refugee. She’s frustrated with her inability to help her children start new lives in Europe empty-handed. “If you don’t have anything, you can’t do anything,” she says.

Amina and her husband lived in Tehran for two decades. Two of her four children were born there. The family had sought refuge from the Taliban’s war, which in 1996 swept away the last remnants of Soviet rule by overthrowing the Najibullah government and imposing sharia law across most of the country.

Two years ago, Amina and her family became refugees from a different kind of violence. “We left Iran because my husband was killed by his uncle and cousins. The reason was a dispute over division of property,” she says.

The property was a hectare of farmland and a house, which Amina's husband was trying to secure for his children. Two years ago, he went on a trip to Afghanistan. “My husband did not tell me why he was going to Afghanistan, but it was to discuss the property issue. Then a month later his cousins came and found him and knifed him.” Her children spent ten days watching their father die in hospital.

Amina's life changed drastically. She had no income. “I raised my children with great difficulty. We left Tehran and went to Mashhad, but found we couldn’t live there either.” 

Early last summer, Amina received warning from her husband’s family that her children weren’t safe. “The cousins are still chasing us – they want to kill my children to prevent them from inheriting the land,” she says. Her brother, a farmer, put up the money to smuggle them to Europe.

“From Iran to Turkey we paid two million toman per person ($600), and from Turkey to here $2,000 dollars per person.” 

She recalls their journey: “A car came to the border and took us up a mountain. We walked for 4-5 hours, and waited for several more hours and were met by another car, which took us into Turkey.”

Despite the vast sums she had paid, Amina's smugglers also robber her of a further 2,800 euros. “My brother had put money in an account. In Istanbul the smugglers took us to pick it up, and as we waited at a red light they slipped it out of my son’s pocket. The Turkish police told us that we could file a report, but since we were travelling without documents we would also be put in jail.”

The family spent only a week in Turkey. On the ninth night after they left Iran, they were put in a rubber boat holding about 45 people and pushed off the Turkish coast, pointed in the direction of the Greek island of Lesvos.

“We spent four hours on the sea, bailing out water and praying to Allah. The waves had taken us far. When we reached Lesvos, we walked for several hours. We saw a house, knocked, and asked the man who lived there to call the police. He gave us food and water and called the police, who took us to the holding cells.”

The family tried to trek to Germany. They were arrested in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and sent back. They went back to living in a municipal summer camp on Lesvos, and are fed by volunteers. They have now applied for asylum here. Her daughter, who is 12, has started an induction course to enter Greek school. Asked what she’d like to study in university, she says, “Mathematics.”

*This article is part of a series of profiles published by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees to help highlight the plight of those fleeing war- and famine-torn regions of central Asia, the Middle East and Africa towards Europe.