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Afghan teen journalist writes of courage and sorrow

With gunmen on his tail, 17-year-old Omid Ahmadi, a young journalist, fled Kabul without saying goodbye to his family. Now safe, he shared his journey in his own words.

Omid Ahmadi and the class of Afghan girls and women whom he taught English in a refugee camp in Greece earlier this year. © Omid Ahmadi

Omid Ahmadi and the class of Afghan girls and women whom he taught English in a refugee camp in Greece earlier this year. © Omid Ahmadi

BAD FALLINGBOSTEL, Germany – We believe that water is life but sometimes it stands for the opposite, death. I thought a lot about this when I faced death in the middle of the dreadful and dangerous waters between Turkey and Greece, the place where hundreds of people have died.

When you are in such waters for hours, not knowing if you will survive, all you can cling to is hope. We humans cannot live for a second without hope.

The boat that took us from Turkey to Greece was an inflatable dinghy. The waves were high and the boat nearly broke down. When we saw the rescue boats coming from the Greek side, everyone started shouting: “Thank God, thank God!” We were begging for help and when they came, I broke down in tears and was not able to say ‘thank you’.

When we got off the boat, some people gave us food, tea, trousers and socks. They were from the UNHCR.

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Afghan student journalist Omid Ahmadi and fellow refugees in a rubber dinghy on the sea crossing from Turkey to Greece. © Omid Ahmadi

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The 17-year-old student journalist fled his native Afghanistan after gunmen came looking for him. © Omid Ahmadi

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Afghan refugees wait to enter the transit zone at the Röszke border crossing between Serbia and Hungary. © UNHCR/Zsolt Balla

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Omid takes in a view of Athens after safely arriving in Greece by boat from Turkey. © Omid Ahmadi

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Transit zones at the Hungarian-Serbian border — the ‘legal pathway’ to Europe. However, access to these zones is restricted by authorities. © UNHCR/Zsolt Balla

We know that every country has its own rules, so when I was in Greece, I did my best to obey their regulations. For almost three months, I lived in a military camp.

I tried to give what I could, to make people smile. I helped with translations for Pashto, Farsi and Urdu speakers and I did shifts in a big store with Greek soldiers, distributing items such as soap, shampoo and toothpaste, and mattresses, pillows and blankets.

For me, the most memorable thing was teaching English to young girls and women. I did it for free, just to help them. When I saw they wanted to learn something from the ocean of knowledge, I could not stop myself. One of the people in charge at the camp provided a classroom for us.

We sowed the seeds of love, sympathy, perception and acceptance in a very peaceful environment.

I learned a lot from my students as I corrected their mistakes. Nobody is perfect in the field of knowledge. We sowed the seeds of love, sympathy, perception and acceptance in a very peaceful environment.

Day by day, however, the weather was getting hotter and it was difficult to live in a tent. Also, it was time for me to move on and find my relatives who were in Germany.

This was harder than you might think. From Greece, I went through Macedonia, Serbia and Hungary. Crossing the borders of these countries was difficult. Walking in the forests was tough. Apart from exhaustion, being without food, water and first aid was simply dangerous.

There were no toilets or showers. Families had tents but I was sleeping in the open.

Finally, I came to the Serbia-Hungary border and found myself in a field with others, mostly Afghans, waiting to cross the border legally. I was there for 18 days.  To cope with all this and to remain patient and determined to achieve your goals demands courage and endurance.

There were no toilets or showers. Families had tents but I was sleeping in the open. Back in Kabul, I saw conditions like this when I reported on poverty and homelessness. Now I was in that same position myself.

I was starting to lose hope. I asked myself, “Why do we have such a life?” Through my tears, I was singing a song that goes: “I wonder, what kind of courage did God have?” I felt the full meaning of pain, homelessness and sorrow.

This is the abridged story of an Afghan journalist, who had hopes for peace and democracy in his country, writing now from a safe place in Germany.

*This article was written with the assistance of UNHCR contributor Helen Womack

Helen adds:

Omid Ahmadi was close to despair when I met him, waiting in one of the transit zones on the Serbia-Hungary border. The 17-year-old student journalist had fled the Taliban in his native Afghanistan and made the treacherous journey from Turkey, only to find himself sitting in a field, uncertain where he would be able to go next or where his journey would finally end.

In Kabul, Omid had worked for an independent news agency, Neda-e-Agah (Sound of Awareness). He was one of a group of journalists who reported on the return of the Taliban to Kunduz province. After this, Taliban fighters came to his home, put a gun to his father’s head and trashed the house. Fortunately, he was out at the time.

“My mother warned me to run away,” he says. “I escaped alone, without saying goodbye to my family.”

In the field at Röszke, Hungary, Omid compared the rough conditions to the life he had had at home. “I had many kinds of books. I studied journalism, psychology and philosophy. I was married to study. Study is a tree with endless fruit.”

For a time, it looked as if he might have come to a dead end and be denied his dream of going to university and becoming a journalist. However, that did not happen and he is now in a refugee reception centre at Bad Fallingbostel in Germany, from where he sent this report.

By: Omid Ahmadi