*Not his real name
Aasif has a little bit of stubble today, and has a twinkle in his eyes as he gazes at a new medical tent being put up in Moria camp. We met three days ago as he wandered into his tent, speaking an unusual English drawl that sounds like it originates from the Northeastern part of the US. He explains it to me slowly, as if he’s been asked this before.
“I worked for the NATO forces, specifically the US forces, in Afghanistan,” he said in perfect English, “but you can use my real name and a photo of my face.”
Because many of the refugees are fleeing persecution or threats to their lives from various groups, I didn’t feel comfortable, so he turned his face sideways, and let me snap the photo, looking at it and laughing.
“Is that even my good side?”
Aasif kicked some dust on the ground, meeting my eye in a new looking leather jacket and t-shirt. “I really liked working for the US forces, and they treated me well while they were there.”
“Then,” he said with a sad smile, “they left me.”
With the Taliban moved back into Afghanistan after the NATO forces withdrew, things became extremely unstable for Aasif.
“We had to move 3 times in one year. It just wasn’t safe. My family and friends would call me if there was Taliban activity and tell me to avoid certain parts of town.”
There’s optimism and cynicism in his voice as he says, “I have this sheet of paper signed by the US Ambassador to Afghanistan that authorizes me asylum.”
“But the US denied my asylum claim.”
Unfortunately, this is a very typical story, as the man standing beside him, a stout, energetic Afghan with a hearty handshake shares the exact same story.
“We helped so much, but then they left us, and the war began all over again.”
They are not mad or upset anymore, instead spending their energies on how to succeed moving forward. These guys are resilient.
“Look at how far we’ve made it now, we’re in Greece. I’d really like to go to Germany to claim asylum, but my friends are saying that they are deporting Afghans straight back to Kabul.”
“So I don’t think I can go there, I can’t go back to Afghanistan, it’s not safe.”
When asked when he talked to his mother last, he laughed and said,
“You wouldn’t believe it. We were leaving Turkey to come to Greece and crammed into this tiny dinghy and just as we took off, all shivering and in life-jackets, my mother called.”
“I mean, what do I say to her in that instance?”
The boat rocked and swayed and the engine cut out at multiple times. Aasif is certain that there wasn’t enough gasoline in the engine, but the boat did not capsize and they were transported to Moria camp to get registered as ‘refugees.’
He puts his hand on my shoulder and pulls out his paper indicating he’s officially a refugee. He’s now allowed to travel to the next destination. But he’s got a plan.
“I am going to work here in the camp for a few more days to make money for the boat to Athens and then head to a country most likely to accept me.”
Would he go home?
“If it is safe, of course,” he says without hesitation.
“But I know that I have to start over now, in a new place and hopefully I can be happy over here. I miss my family and my country, and I hope to find safety here.”