Escape from Kunduz

Jan 5, 2017 · 5 min read
Illustration: Karrie Fransman

When gunmen came looking for him, Hamed Mousavez (age 21) knew he had to flee Afghanistan. This is his story:

“Over a year ago, things became dangerous in my city, Kunduz. Everyday something bad was happening: explosions, people being killed, kidnapping, looting and rape.

I was a teacher. I’d been teaching English for five years, since I was only 16, in fact. My own teacher thought that I had potential and was talented enough to start so young. It was a big deal. Teaching is a prestigious job in Afghanistan. So, step by step, I built up my experience.

Illustration: Karrie Fransman

But the armed groups that came to Kunduz did not think teaching English was prestigious. They thought it was blasphemy.

They occupied my city for 16 days. Everyone, including me, fled and took their families to other provinces in Afghanistan, far from Kunduz. When we finally came back, everything was destroyed: hospitals, clinics, schools, bridges, homes.

While we were away, men with guns came to our house. They were looking for the guy who works with the American military forces, my brother, and the other guy who was a teacher, me. They wanted to kill us. Our neighbours took a risk and lied for us. They told the men our family was very poor and that we didn’t have jobs.

The gunmen left to knock on other doors.

“I had to keep going”

When we returned, our city seemed safe. But for how long? How could we be sure that we wouldn’t get another knock at our door? I told my family that I wanted to leave. I wanted a life where I was free to teach and to learn.

I took my passport and travelled six hours by bus to the Iranian embassy to get a visa. As I left for the bus, my mother was crying. I was crying too. It was so hard to leave.

After I got my Iranian visa, I flew to Iran. It was a Saturday.

In Iran, I stayed with my sister. She tried to convince me to remain with her. She had heard news that getting to Europe was dangerous. But I had to keep going.

I found it very easy to get a smuggler. These smugglers are all connected with each other: one in Iran, one in Afghanistan, one in Turkey, one in Greece. A smuggler in Afghanistan gave me a number for an Iranian smuggler. I rang him and he arranged for me to go that night.

“It was freezing but we didn’t have a choice”

Our group set off. Two people in the trunk and four or five in the back seat. Because I was a little bit stylish, I got to sit in the front seat because the smugglers didn’t think the police would suspect me.

We travelled from Tehran to Turkey. I was so nervous, because anything can happen. People can rob you, do anything to you. You have no protection under the law.

It was 3am when we arrived close to the border with Turkey. After resting for one night, we left to cross the mountains. We had to walk for three hours and then sleep in the mountains. It was freezing, but we didn’t have a choice.

At 8am the next morning the smugglers told us we had 30 minutes to pass the border. I ran so fast. To be honest with you, I was so exhausted, I could feel pains in my ankles, my feet and legs, all over my body. But I didn’t have a choice, I had to do it. We ran and crossed over the border. Only then, we stopped somewhere to rest.

When I arrived in Istanbul two days later, I didn’t have enough money to pay smugglers to continue on to Europe. I had to find work. Thankfully, a friend from abroad was able to send me some money. After four months of saving, I paid for the boat to cross to Greece.

Illustration: Karrie Fransman

We were 38 people in a boat that was 10 metres long. About 30 minutes into the crossing, the boat’s engine stopped. Everyone was praying, yelling and screaming. It was night time. I wanted to call my family and say goodbye to them. I was thinking this would be the last night of my life.

But by some miracle, the coast guard found us. We made it to shore.

“These nights have been some of the hardest”

We arrived on Lesvos, a Greek island just 10 kilometres from the Turkish coast, and were taken to a camp. I met a guy on my second day there who said, “Hey, your English is great, maybe you can translate for us.” So I started volunteering. I realised quickly that sitting in the camp with nothing to do makes you sick.

When I first came to the camp, I was optimistic about my future. But it gets harder every day. The news is not good. Armed groups took my city again. I haven’t spoken with my family. It’s been 10 days. Their last text to me said they have no water, power or food. These nights have been some of the hardest times in my life worrying about them.

Illustration: Karrie Fransman

I don’t know how long I will be in this camp or where I will end up. Maybe I’ll be sent back to Afghanistan. My mind is busy thinking about that too.

But I’m still optimistic. I want to go to France. Paris is a romantic city. Or to Spain because I like Barcelona FC. I want to be safe and free and for my family to have the same.

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