I know two young men, let’s call them Mansour and Said. Aged 20 and 22. Both from Afghanistan. Similar fates. When they were both teenagers, their parents sent them on a long journey all alone. Mansour, whose father was murdered by the Taliban, was under threat that he might be dragged away and forced to fight. But he wanted to become a doctor and his mother had hoped that in Europe he would find safety and the opportunity to study. Said’s family did not want the young boy to grow up in war – so they paid for the journey which they hoped would bring him to safety.
They arrived safely, making it to Slovakia, but they did not have the luxury of finding a foster family and thus they ended up in an orphanage. Mansour, while still a child, applied for asylum. The bureaucracy did not trust him and looked for flaws in his child testimony. With our (the Human Rights League 1 help and after many months of legal battle he was finally granted asylum. This came after many tears and scars on his soul at a young age. When he reached legal adulthood, he left the orphanage. He wanted to stand on his own two feet even if that meant giving up his dream of studying medicine. Said experienced an orphanage deep in the woods, in a region that did not even have a bus stop, and where children had to walk through a dense forest. The car, that should have been at children’s disposal was, rumor has it, used for a different purpose. Fortunately, that institution has already closed down.
Today both of them have jobs. They work in fast food – sometimes 10-12 hours a day, just so they can take care of themselves and not burden anybody. Their peers go to parties, bars, movies, and study at university. Mansour and Said are instead saving money and sending part of it back home to their families. They have no time or the conditions for fun or study. Quite a cruelty these former child refugees face.
And then, one recent Sunday afternoon both go to a restaurant to meet another Afghani who owed money to Said. He welcomed them with a knife and both ended up in a hospital bed. Monday afternoon, after a night at the hospital and with the police, both young men, obviously tired, appeared at our office. They told us what happened and asked what they should do. We send them home to get rest.
Already on Tuesday their story had appeared on social media. But wait, now it’s not their story. The news headlines read: “An Afgani stabbed two youngsters.” Some people post comments on how violence is coded in Afghanis.
I’m thinking – what would happen, if the news headlines focused on their story? Such as “Two Afghani youngsters became victim of attack,” or “Former child refugees from Afghanistan work hard to make a living,” or “A child refugee from Afghanistan wants to become a doctor but can’t pay for his studies.” What would this say about them and “Afghani nature”? And what does it say about us, that such headlines did not appear?
The commentary was published February 9, 2017 in the Slovak daily, SME, and is available here.