Tag Archives: UNHCR

The other side of the acropolis

Omonia, metro station - Kriisliao /flickr

10th post. Athens. The place where democracy was born hides a dark and painful side: it is the streets and squares where the muhajirins live illegally, waiting for a future that never comes. A black hole that swallows lives and destinies, where Mussa Khan seems to have gotten lost

Athens. From the Katehaki metro station, waves of hectic people pour into the still sleepy neighborhood. I recognize very few Greek faces, among those crowding the coaches: Africa, Asia and the Middle East seem to have arranged to meet on this train.

“Afghans know very well the difficulties that await them in Europe. The muhajirins that have settled here constantly inform friends and families on the foul living conditions in Greece”. Ibrahimi turns off the monitor where pictures are running: wretched migrant camps scattered in the center of Athens.

“In the past few years many muhajirins, exasperated by extreme poverty, have accepted voluntary repatriations financed by the International Organization for Migrations”. Ibrahimi continues, “But they only stayed in Afghanistan for a few weeks at the most, to then face the terrible journey to Europe again”. After a moment of pause, the thoughts reach the rather obvious conclusion: “The thing is, for us Afghans there is no alternative to escape. To live in fear is too high a price to pay”. Continue reading


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The Jirga of Gaziantep

5th post. The distance, journey and precariousness are notenough to deprive the Afghan refugees of their roots. The “Jirga” meets also in Gaziantep. The assembly of elders sits to face the painful topic of exile, but also day-to-day problems of those who hover between a bitter present and an uncertain future

The elder Abdal Halek is leafing through a booklet gone yellow. Sitting in a semicircle on the carpet, the assembly of the family heads observes silently. “My whole life since I have been in Turkey”. Forms, requests, certificates, clippings, notes. The gnarled fingers dip through the papers, stopping on a UNHCR headed paper: “It is from last week”. He hands it to me. “I have been invited to appeal for the third time. It means I have not been awarded refugee status, yet. After seven years”.

The old man continues, “But I no longer have the strength to wait. For years, I have waited and hoped. Then I tried. I sent my children to Greece with the traffickers twice. They were arrested, beaten and sent back here. I tried to go back to Teheran, but Iran is no longer the country we lived in for so long. I tried with the UNHCR, but they do not answer the phone in Ankara, anymore. And it has been months”. Then he turns his gaze to the ground. “From now on, I will simply do nothing”. Continue reading

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The Turkish trap

Turkish residence permit for foreigners - P.Martino

3rd post. Still in Van and of Mussa Khan, no news.   The journey amongst the Afghan muhajirins continues: trapped in the Turkish city, in the limbo of temporary asylum waiting to continue their journey, even illegally, through Greece and Italy

The Milky Way is the silvery roof of the sleepless upland: at dead of night the alleys of Van keep swarming with discrete trades, while up above, in the pale and distant sky, the light of the stars keeps pulsing coldly.

I give up on the idea of the expedition to Yuksekova: it is complicated and has little chance of success, so I decide to focus on continuing my researches in the city. I spend my whole Sunday in the streets, and together with Shahin we chase suggestions, images, any hint that can lead me on Mussa’s tracks.

We go back to the neighborhoods surrounding the castle, wander in the suburbs and loiter in theotogar , the bus station just outside the city. It is just a failed attempt, though: muhajirins do not leave traces of their presence. The day winds up in front of the computer: no e-mail, no message on Facebook. Mussa has cut off contact with the world. Continue reading

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The valley of migrations

Sunset in Van - P.Martino

2nd post. At night, in Yüksekova, the army has permission to shoot at sight. If you go up there, be very, very careful”. The journey in search of Mussa Khan continues. An Afghan refugee on the path to a dream called “Europe”. A dream that is all too often paid with one’s own life

Shahin dips the bread in the mixture of honey, cheese and chopped hazelnuts while, with the other hand, he invites me to do the same. “This is the week-end’s breakfast, when we have time to sit and enjoy the flavors of Kurdistan!”. Around us, noisy families crowd the tables that invade the road site, while frenzied children carry tea, as though speed were the measure of their professionalism.

I tell Shahin about my intention to extend my research on Mussa Khan up to Yuksekova. At the table next to ours, someone seems interested. “It is useless to go up in those mountains. You won’t find anything there”. Perfect English, sunglasses, in his 30s, the stranger continues: “Few people know that soil like I do. There are only pastors and terrorists”. His behavior is off-putting, but the opportunity is tempting. Without thinking, I ask him, point-blank: “How do you know so much about it?” Continue reading

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On the trails of Mussa Khan

Van, near the border with Iran - johncumbers /flickr

1st post. Months, years, constantly moving. Rejected, invisible, on the margins. This is the destiny of the Afghan muhajirins , on a tenacious search for the dream called “Europe”. With the episodes of the “Mussa Khan” blog, we are going to tell their odyssey through Turkey, Greece and Italy, until the Ostiense Station in Rome

“This is Kurdistan, not Turkey!”  His eyes stormy, Taha is very convincing.  After three weeks of border crossings and a thousand different languages, I stumble on the easiest of words: “Thank you.”  “No problem!” he reassures me with a smile. Then he takes me by the arm and walks me to the city center through a labyrinth of alleys crowded with the tables and stools of tea shops.

Shahin, who for three to four days will be my interpreter, is waiting for us.  A recent graduate, wearing a striped shirt and black leather shoes, he doesn’t inspire much confidence with his tremulous voice.  His employ  is the result of tenacious research on the part of Taha, whom I had met just one hour earlier on the bus. After introductions, a cup of tea, and a shoeshine, we got to work. Mussa Khan will soon be in the area and, before he arrives, I want to have a full understanding of the situation Afghan refugees face when they arrive in Van, Turkey, the arrival point for those coming by way of Iran. Continue reading

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