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When we (Isabel Romijnders and Hans Blokland) interviewed Ali, we immediately noticed that he was very interested to share his story. So, after more than one hour talking with him and his roommate, we invited them to meet again, as they had much more to tell. A couple of days later we received a warm email from Ali. He had taken the liberty to write his story himself, describing his personal experiences and feelings. What follows is the story of Ali, only slightly edited by us.
Part 1 – Afghanistan
Migration means the movement of people from one place to another place for work or life. People usually migrate to escape unfavorable circumstances or factors such as poverty, diseases, political issues, food shortages, natural disasters, war, unemployment, and lack of security. The second reason can be favorable conditions and factors that attract the destination of migration, such as more health facilities, better education, higher income, better housing and better political freedoms.
For those who did not have the experience of emigrating and leaving their motherland, the personal feeling and suffering and hart aching of an immigrant can never be truly understood. But for me, who had hoped and tried for a better future in my home country, the pain of losing hope and dreams in my country was very painful. I had built up my future in Afghanistan for many years. I never thought that one day I would have had to leave my home and job, lose my life, and become a refugee in another country.
In Afghanistan I was known among the urban class for more than a decade through my work in the media, information technology, social,- cultural,- and political- activities. However, I was facing severe safety problems, especially when I was working in the largest television network called Tolo TV, which was an entertainment network for the people of Afghanistan. The most important parts of the broadcasting on this channel were international TV series, Afghan and foreign music, entertainment programs for youth and other social and cultural activities.
TV channels that broadcast entertainment, caused anger with the extremist Islamists (Taliban). They would terrorize the employees of Tolo TV with death threats, and several times they attacked and killed some of the employees of our TV network. Therefore, at the end of 2015, with the intensification of terrorist attacks by the Taliban and ISIS in Afghanistan, especially in Kabul, I decided to leave Afghanistan. Maybe I will not be able to see the beautiful city of Kabul ever again, and only haver the memories from a distances. I think about the life that I had in Kabul, and sometimes in my lonely moments I cry, being far away from home.
I first went to Islamabad, Pakistan, to get a student visa for Ukraine. After I obtained the visa through the Embassy of the Republic of Ukraine, I returned to Kabul. I prepared my travel stuff and bought a plane ticket. My flight was from Kabul International Airport to Dubai (about 11 hours of transit stop at Dubai International Airport) and then to Odesa, Ukraine.
Part 2 – Ukraine
On February 9, 2016, I arrived in Odesa, Ukraine. It was very cold. When I got off the plane, I felt strange. It was as if I had traveled to a new world. New people with light skin color, blue eyes, blonde hair. Most importantly, the Ukrainian language, which was completely new and unfamiliar to me.
After a few days, I entered Odesa National Polytechnic University to study computer science. There were many students, including Ukrainians, Afghans, Arabs, Turkish, Indians, Africans etc.. We had very good lecturers. They worked very hard for foreign students to learn the language well so that they could succeed at the university. I worked hard and after three years I finished polytechnic university. And I had learned two more languages (Russian and Ukrainian).
Odesa is a multi-cultural city. Ukrainians, Russians, Afghans, Turkish, Indians, Pakistanis, Iranians and people from many other countries, life there together. The multi-nationality of Odesa gives the city beauty and prosperity. I made Ukrainian friends there. They were very enthusiastic to discuss Afghanistan and the countries of the region, and learn about the good things there.
Even though I missed my home in Afghanistan, I was very happy in Ukraine. I had started a small online business. My activities were in the fields of graphic design, building business websites, setting up online shops, online advertising and consulting.
I was living my life in Ukraine until the brutal Russian attack on Ukraine began. On February 24, I woke up at around 5 am with loud explosions caused by Russian rockets. I went to the balcony and saw from the window, thick black smoke coming from several places. I was very scared. I hurried back inside and grabbed my handy to read the news. After a few moments, the Russian attack on Ukraine was on the headlines in the domestic and international media.
On that day, I was so scared that I smoked maybe more than two packs of cigarettes. The stress and fear that had grown in me when I fled Afghanistan, did not spare me. I had no appetite to eat at all. The brutal attack by a civilized country on a friendly and neighboring country, it was completely unlikely and illogically to me. The actions of the Russian leaders were complete stupidity.
My mother called every hour. She was asking about my health and the current war situation. I always reassured her that the situation was good and I was in a safe place. She is living as an immigrant in the Republic of Tajikistan for three years now. She was worried about me, and I was worried about her and her health. The war is hurting – lest this damn war hurt my mother’s spirit and make her sick because of me.
I contacted some of my Ukrainian and Afghan friends who lived in the same city. We decided to get together and to discuss whether to stay or to leave for the countryside. I went to a village near Odesa, and stayed at an Ukrainian friend of mine. But after a few days, I decided to return to my city and visit my home. Everything was in its place. The only thing that was not there anymore was my smile. My friends always made me smile, but I could not anymore. There was no joy in my apartment.
At night, upon hearing the danger-sirens, everyone had to go to the underground safe shelters. We had to stay there until the alarm turned off. Usually, when Russian drones were seen over the city by the Ukrainian radar and defense system, the danger-sirens were active throughout the city.
I searched a long time on the internet to which country I could flee to, once again, and which country had a hopeful future for migrants. I decided to leave Ukraine and travel to Europe. My final destination was Germany.
I was looking for transportation to leave Ukraine. But because of the war, all trains and buses were reserved for the evacuation of women, children, elderly and sick people. It was not possible to travel by train and bus. Some of my friends left Ukraine with their families, and it was not possible for me to travel with them. Meanwhile, one of my neighbors, who was a taxi driver, called me and said that he planned to travel with his daughter to the Polish border. His daughter wanted to go to Poland and he would return to Odesa. He said that if I wanted, I could travel with him and his daughter as the back seat of the car was completely empty. I accepted that as an opportunity to escape the war.
On Sunday at 8 am, we left Odesa. There were many cars and buses as people were trying to reach the European borders. Traffic congestion and security check points were very boring. We traveled by car for almost 23 hours until we reached the Polish border. Ukrainian and Polish border guards behaved very well with people and cooperated with everyone. A flood of migrants was flowing near the border. It was perhaps the biggest flood of immigrants in the world in recent decades. Russia and its leaders are to blame for this misery and displacement. They will surely pay for this barbaric act, because every action has a reaction.
When I entered Poland, my first contact was with my mother and I told her that I had safely entered Poland and the European Union. She was very happy with this news. She said that she had prayed for me, that I would reach my destination safely. I am really happy with the support of my dear mother. I pray that she will always be healthy, and always have a smile on her face.
In the border town where I entered Poland, the immigration officers guided everyone. They gave everyone packages of food, and hot drinks such as tea and coffee. Free buses were available that took the refugees to the train station. After getting the food package, I boarded the bus and went to the train station. At the station, police and charities helped people to get on the train and travel to other cities of their choice in Poland. I got on the train and traveled to Warsaw. At the Warsaw station, there were many refugees from Ukraine, and most of them were waiting for the next trains to Germany. I also received a free train ticket from Warsaw to Berlin with the help of social workers.
An important point to remember is that Poland is a neighbor country of Ukraine, but so is Russia. Regarding compassion, between these two neighboring countries, there are many differences. Russia has killed large numbers of military and civilian people with brutal attacks in Ukraine. They destroyed the infrastructures and entire cities. But Poland is compassionate, humane and kindly welcomed the Ukrainian refugees. They gave them food and shelter in their country with warm and loving hugs. This is where we feel the difference in friendships and neighbors.
Part 3 – Germany
I finally arrived in Germany, the land of science and knowledge, the land of humanity and love. When I arrived at Berlin central train station, I saw that the police, charities, social workers and people welcomed the arrival of Ukrainian refugees with so much kindness and smiles. A large tent was set up behind the Berlin central station, where they welcomed new immigrants and gave them food, water and tea. Free SIM cards with free calls to Ukraine and high-speed internet were distributed by telecommunication companies at the train station for Ukrainian immigrants. All this kindness and welcoming of the immigrants were very nice, and it was an interesting and spectacular moment for me.
I was waiting for my friend who lives in Berlin and was supposed to take me to his apartment. While I was waiting for him, I walked inside the Berlin central station. It is a huge and beautiful place with well-equipped facilities. I was feeling the differences. I was questioning myself why, despite billions of dollars of international aid, do we not have such facilities in Afghanistan? Why do we not have such a train station? Why don’t we have urban railways in Afghanistan at all? The reason for Afghanistan’s underdevelopment is the heads of government. They are always focused on their own interests rather than the development of the country.
I had many questions in my mind. At the same time, I was thinking about the goodness and kindness of the German people. If I had a question, or wanted to get information about something, I would ask German people in the English language, they were answering with a beautiful smile and a cheerful face. They often asked where I am from. I told them that I am originally from Afghanistan, but I was in Ukraine for six years and came to Germany after the war started. They welcomed me and we talked for a few moments. After my friend came to visit me, we went to his apartment. I took a shower, we ate and I rested because I hadn’t slept properly in over 48 hours.
After staying two days in Berlin, I planned to travel to other cities in Germany, because the trains and public transportations were free for refugees who came from Ukraine. I benefited and traveled to several cities in Germany alone. Very beautiful cities, very pleasant weather and kind people. Here I found people and society with civilized thoughts.
After about three weeks of traveling to several cities in Germany and meeting some friends, which of course I had a great time with and helped me to relief my stress, I finally decided to go to the immigration office and apply for asylum. I chose the land Brandenburg. For three and half months, I was in a refugee camp in Eisenhüttenstadt city. I had a great time there, I met new people and made new friends. After that, the immigration office decided to transfer me to Frankfurt Oder. I was in the Markendorf camp for a month. After that I was transferred to a third refugee camp in Wünsdorf, where I spend two months. After that I was transferred to the camp where I currently live.
For now, I am learning the German language at home. I registered for the language course. At the moment I am waiting for the permission by the government to learn the language. In the future, I would like to continue my higher education in one of the universities of Berlin or Potsdam, so that I could use my knowledge well and serve the society where I live.