Omar is from Eastern Afghanistan currently living in Belgrade, Serbia.
“I will tell you why I left my family and my home. I went to high school in Kabul. When I finished high school some friends of mine were telling me about them working with the United States Army, so I went to Kandahar province and started to work with the US Army as an interpreter. It was not easy working with them for many reasons, especially security reasons. A year passed and I went home and decided I wanted to go to university. I had to take a test that would give me the chance to go to university for free, if I scored high enough, since my family couldn’t afford it. I did get a high score and I started to study journalism. I graduated at the end of 2015.”
At that time, most of the American army and NATO were leaving Afghanistan. The first province they left was Kunar, that’s where Omar and his family live. The situation was getting worse. After NATO and US Army, the second target for the Taliban and ISIS are the people who worked with them.
“Since we lived in a village far away from the city, the Taliban and Hezbi Islamic took control of it as soon as the US Army left Kunar.”
In the beginning of 2016, some groups of ISIS also came to the area. They started fighting amongst themselves. After a while they started bothering the people in the village. Beating any man who would shave their beard, or anyone who listened to music or had a television at home. They wanted to have complete control of what the people heard or saw.
The province Kunar in the east of Afghanistan
“I had a TV, they came into my house at 2am and took it. They took whatever they felt like taking. I had to pay 10,000 Afghani, which is like $150. Things were getting worse each day. I didn’t feel safe because of what I had done. The people in the village knew I had worked for the US Army, so my family told me to leave before anything happened to me. I asked them where did they want me to go? They said Europe would be a good place for me to go. I kept thinking why did I go to university if I was just going to leave. I studied hard, I was 5th in my class out of 135, and if I go to Europe I wouldn’t be able to do what I wanted to do with my career. I decided I would go so I could be safe and my family wouldn’t be in danger anymore.”
Omar’s family paid a smuggler to take him to Europe. He left Afghanistan with a group of people and went to Pakistan, then Iran. Really bad things happened there.
“The smuggler had a partner and he took us to a place and kept us in a small room. It was more like a jail cell. We felt like caged animals.”
It turned out the partners had some problems that involved the police and the second one was holding them hostage until he got what he wanted from the first one.
“He would feed us or give us something to drink every 48 hours. If we had to use the toilet there was a pail in the corner of the room we had to use. We couldn’t talk or ask questions or he would hit us with the end of his gun. All he wanted was money, $5000 was what he was asking or he was going to kill us.”
Eventually the money was paid and they left to Turkey. When they were traveling to Turkey, Omar’s spirits were low and he wanted to give up and go back home. A friend of his, who was with him, told him not to give up. So they continued their journey but they did have to leave some people behind. They couldn’t keep up with all the walking or lack of food and water. Once they were in the jungle, they were told it would only take a few hours to cross into the next country. It took several days.
“I only had a small bottle of water and I finished it within 4 hours of the first day. We came across some water after a few days but it was disgusting. The water was green from the algae floating on top and I had just saw some animals drinking out of it, but I didn’t care. It was water. I drank so much of it but I felt so sick afterwards.”
After Turkey they went to Bulgaria.
“The police caught us and they took everything from us. They beat us up so bad and they had their dogs attacking us. The police are supposed to be the people who protect you, but they made us take our clothes off and left us in our underwear and shirt. They said we had to go back to Turkey, so we walked 2 days without any shoes.”
When Omar got back to Turkey he waited a few days until his feet were healed and then tried again. He made it through Bulgaria and then to Serbia. It is winter and he is living in the park with only a few blankets. He said he does regret leaving home at times. He had his family and a warm place to sleep.
“I do talk to my brothers sometimes and my mom is always asking how I am. I tell them to tell her I’m doing well and not to tell her the truth. I don’t want her to feel bad for telling me to come to Europe. I don’t know what to do. I’ve tried to leave Serbia a few times but there is no possible way to leave.”