Afghan migrant who walked 4,000 miles to reach Europe returns home

Like many other young Afghans, Kasim travelled irregularly to Europe in search of a better life. Instead, he found poverty, abuse and exploitation. In an interview with NBC News, he explained why he eventually decided to return home.

Kasim had taken substantial financial and physical risks to reach Europe. The former dentistry student spent USD 11,000 of his family’s money on the journey. He walked around 4,000 miles, through Iran, Bulgaria and Serbia, to eventually reach Athens, Greece.

Although he had originally planned to continue his journey to Germany, Kasim ended up trapped in the country with the highest unemployment rate in Europe. He told NBC, “Athens is so bad, I did not have a place in Greece to sleep, and I did not have money to eat.”

Like many other irregular migrants, he had to work as a prostitute to survive. “We have great shame, we’re not gay, we don’t like doing this job. … If you live on the street, you have to do what you have to,” he said.

Kasim tried to leave Greece on numerous occasions, using fake or stolen passports. But his attempts were unsuccessful. The police caught him every time.

The lowest point for Kasim came last summer, when he was attacked by a gang of at least five men. They beat him, broke his jaw and left him bleeding in a backstreet of Athens. It was in that moment that he decided it was time to go home.

He went to the International Organization for Migration (IOM) to arrange his assisted voluntary return. He was offered USD 1,705 from the Greek government and the European Union to return to Kabul.

Since returning to Afghanistan three months ago, Kasim faced feelings of regret and shame. His family doesn’t understand why he came home. “They ask, ‘why did you come back to Afghanistan, to no jobs’,” he said.

Since 2016, 2.4 million Afghans have returned to the country: some voluntarily, some by force. 

Abdul Ghafoor, from Afghanistan Migrants Advice and Support Organization in Kabul, said that relatives often struggle to understand why migrants would return to Afghanistan.

Liza Schuster, an expert on return migrations to Afghanistan, explains that families often have to make considerable financial sacrifices to send migrants to Europe. They feel anger when the migrant returns after a failed migration attempt.


Photo credit: Alexandros Michailidis / Shutterstock

Photo caption: A family of refugees rest in Victoria Square, where migrants and refugees stay temporarily in Athens, Greece on Sep. 22, 2015