THE BLOG

An Afghan's Journey to Europe

07/06/2016 12:11 | Updated 07 June 2016

Shah is 31 and has perfectly groomed curly hair, with striking red highlights, no doubt a product of the many expert barber shops in the Calais refugee camp, known as the 'Jungle'.

Shah worked for the US army in Afghanistan, a common story among Afghans in the camp. He was a tank driver and transported fuel from Jalabad to various American army bases around the country. One day while driving fuel with his younger brother, he was stopped at a checkpoint controlled by Taliban members. They demanded that he carried a box for them to friends they had at another check point, near to an American base. To get him to agree to this deal, they took his brother hostage.

Later, passing through a government-controlled check point, the box full of ammunition was discovered and he was arrested. When tortured and beaten, he explained that he had been blackmailed by members of the Taliban controlling one of the checkpoints. In response, his interrogators directed troops to the checkpoint he had described, where men were killed on both sides.

When the Taliban found out that it was the tank driver who had leaked information regarding their position, they killed Shah's younger brother.

Shah's family was distraught and blamed him for putting them all at risk by working for the American army. In disgrace, and faced with continual threats from the Taliban, Shah sold some property to pay people smugglers $10,000 to take him to Europe.

After three months of constant travelling, mostly by foot, or hidden in freezing containers in trucks, Shah arrived in Germany.

"I stayed in Germany for five months. But, the German refugee process is very long; it's 5 years, 6 years, before they are giving you paper to take your family from Afghanistan". Instead, Shah plans to seek Asylum in France.

"I am going to save my life, whether it's France or the UK - it doesn't matter for me."

But he doesn't like the Calais camp or the way he is treated there.

"99 percent in the jungle are the same as you. But the people outside are thinking something else about us, they're thinking that we are not human, we are something else. They are scared of us, but we are humans, we have the same heart like you, the same dreams, the same hopes."

There are those who would prefer he went back to his own country and he knows it. "But," he asks me, "who put us in this trouble in the first place? I know, all the world know that. 42 countries are involved in our country, they are fighting there. But they do not live there. I am the one suffering there. I am Afghani. I know.
"Hundreds of people are dying in Afghanistan, and I know that could be me, could be my father, or my mother. So how can I live there? When you walk in the streets, there are explosions. When you are sitting on a bus, you have to check your seat for explosives, you have to check the driver. How can I live there?

"And now, the same stresses in the jungle. We are facing stress, stress, stress. We are human. We're not machines or something else."

When I ask him which family members he will bring over if he is granted asylum, I am surprised to hear him mention a wife and children for the first time. He laughs at my surprise: "Yeah. I have a wife and children. My eldest child is about ten years - he is a boy. I have five children." This is even more of a shock to me and he laughs again.

"That's the Afghani tradition," he explains.

His family is living in a part of Afghanistan without electricity or mobile signal. Once a week they climb a hill in the village to get enough reception to call him.

"I have a daughter - she's talking with me - she's saying to me that 'father, you are lying to us. Nine months you are saying that "I will take you, I will take you, I will send you this". Papa I am not talking with you, you are lying to me.' I am just saying to her, 'please'. She's a child, she doesn't know I'm in a problem. She's six years old.

"My wife knows I'm in trouble. I'm explaining every day, she knows well. She's a little bit educated."

He sighs. "I want a peaceful Afghanistan. I want my country."

Shah's future is uncertain and the fact that he has registered fingerprints in Germany may mean that he will have his French asylum claim rejected. If so, he faces years without his family and children. Meanwhile, they survive off food his father brings them, unable to leave the house unaccompanied, and without access to any form of education.

To read the full story and other refugee stories from Calais, please click here.

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