"Have you met the Queen... what's she like?"
"Errr, getting on a bit... She likes Corgis!"
Emran pauses, shooting me a suspicious side-eye "What's Corgis?"
Emran is an 11-year-old Afghan boy. He's speaks near perfect English. We're walking along a busy road in Central Europe, lined with seedy sex shops, dilapidated eateries and a grimy bus terminal. I'm filming him for a Channel 4 documentary - War Child - and he's been questioning me on the finer points of British culture for the past hour.
Last night Emran was driven by an organised criminal smuggling gang, from the forests of Macedonia into Serbia. He's barely eaten. Until now, the only water he's drunk for the past five days has been from a Macedonian river, yet he remains wide eyed, beaming a brilliant smile.
"Why do people in your country hate refugees?"
A tough question, but one I'm now familiar with. I've been asked it from the troubled Syrian border to the glass cities of Germany. Emran's blunt enquiry, once unpicked, explodes into a complex soup of geopolitics, economics, fear, resentment and media hyperbole. I scramble for a different explanation each time, finding it impossible to provide a meaningful answer. "Lots of British people do like refugees Emran, they'd like you". The arch of his eyebrow hints that the jury's still out.
Emran's just arrived in Belgrade, a single pit stop on his 6500km journey towards what he hopes will be brighter, safer future. He will stop at nothing to keep going forward, eager to reunite with his fourteen-year-old brother, who's already in Germany. His parents have been forced, due to economic reasons, to remain in Afghanistan.
For someone who's been living homeless for the past five months he's surprisingly clean and sharp, dressed in his baseball cap, khaki chinos and a yellow raincoat (all hand-outs picked up along the way). He conducts himself with a maturity that's far beyond his years. I've learnt over time that his appearances skillfully mask his inner feelings. A wall he's constructed to conceal any trace of vulnerability.
Unsurprisingly tears come when his mind turns to his parents, siblings and the home he left behind. He's a proud Afghan, proud of the Kabuli food, the breath-taking mountain ranges and the prowess of the nation's well respected cricketers.
When Channel 4 commissioned me to make a film about child refugees travelling to Western Europe, I immediately began searching for someone that could help tell this story from a uniquely personal perspective. As soon as I met Emran on the railway tracks of Idomeni, a ray of light beamed down. I remember thinking 'This boy is incredible'. Emran immediately recognised the importance of telling his story. With the consent of his parents back in Afghanistan, he agreed to feature in and narrate the final film - War Child.
In the Spring of 2016, Fortress Europe slammed shut, trapping tens of thousands of refugees in Northern Greece. This is where I met Emran, along with his 12-year-old friend Hussein, and Rawan, a sweet natured 12-year-old girl from Aleppo, Syria. I was then privileged enough to accompany them on swathes of their journey to Western Europe. A nightmarish adventure that they'll never forget.
Emran has fled armed border patrols, traded with violent smugglers, travelled on an illegal boat (he can't swim), suffered tear gas and witnessed police beatings. By then he hadn't slept in a bed since the day he left his home five months ago.
I truly believe that the experiences that these children have been forced to go through, and the dangers they've faced say something hugely important and disturbing about us as a society. For me, Emran's journey overwhelmingly demonstrates that it's essential to probe beneath the cacophonous headlines, to seek the vital perspectives of people like him; frontline voices that are often the first to be ignored.
Along the migrant route there are people looking to exploit children like Emran every step of the way. Staggering reports suggest that over 10,000 unaccompanied minors have gone missing within Europe over the past two years alone.
Beyond these nebulous numbers, individuals like Emran have real personalities; he dreams of studying medicine, Rawan wants to be a children's doctor and Hussein is a budding illustrator. Having fled war, these children are excited to find futures in their new host countries, whilst all of them passionately talk of one day helping to rebuild their homelands.
In War Child, Emran generously offers us a unique insight into the migrant crisis, with little agenda other to share his own personal experience. In the era of fake news it's essential to constantly remind ourselves that real lives are defined and sometimes destroyed by oafishly ignorant voices, forces that seek to spin issues selfishly and reductively for their own ends.
Emran bravely leads us through his dangerous world, on his epic and perilous journey; he's a brilliant guide.
War Child airs on Channel 4 on Sunday 12th March at 10.30pmSuggest a correction