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Dangers Fail To Deter Afghans From Embarking On The Dangerous Journey To Europe

Serbian border police officers detained a group of Afghan asylum seekers as they tried to illegally cross the Serbian-Hungarian in February.
Serbian border police officers detained a group of Afghan asylum seekers as they tried to illegally cross the Serbian-Hungarian in February.

Before leaving Afghanistan, Ahmed says, he is throwing one last party for his friends at a local gym in the capital Kabul.

Some of the former classmates and family friends invited to the dinner early this month knew he will soon leave for Europe. But hardly anyone knew he will be departing the very next day, in the dawn and together with a group of men, women, and children.

Ahmed, 30, requested that his identity be concealed and agreed to share his story on the condition that he will only be identified by his full name.

Contrary to the usual practices in Afghanistan, Ahmed has postponed marrying his fiancé for almost four years now. Instead, he has focused on plotting his journey to Europe in search of not only safety but, as he says, being able to live with dignity.

"In Afghanistan, you are part of a massive, ancient system [called] society, and there is hardly any respect for you as an individual," he said in a recent conversation over Skype.

From 2003 to 2009, Ahmed worked with the U.S. military as an interpreter and cultural adviser, mainly in the southern province of Helmand.

"I survived several life-threatening incidents purely by luck, and I cannot depend on luck forever," he says while serving his guests rice, kebabs, and soda.

"I was seriously injured in a bomb blast once, and then I left the army. Now I am scared that they -- the Taliban -- might come after me, and I won't have the chance to escape."

Ahmed lives with his two brothers, parents, and four nephews in a four-room flat in one of Kabul's middle-class residential areas.

After leaving his job with the the U.S. forces, he joined a private university in Kabul to study business administration.

But like thousands of young Afghans suffering from widespread unemployment and corruption, he couldn’t get an "ideal" job.

"In Afghanistan, you cannot get anything unless you are highly connected to politics or government officials, or pay a bribe. I had no connections, and I disagree with paying bribes."

But, another possibility for Ahmed was to leave the country for somewhere in the European Union, ideally Germany, and as he puts it to "end living in Afghanistan for good."

"I found someone -- a human trafficker -- through friends, who promised taking us to Turkey and from there facilitate our departure to Greece."

Ahmed paid roughly $6,000 for the perilous journey that has seen thousands drown in the Mediterranean this year.

"That is a reasonable price for an adult," he says. The trafficker will be responsible for all costs until their last day in Turkey.

For a child under 10 years old, the price ranges from $1,000 to $1,500. Prices increase with age.

"Prices are different. You cannot find a fixed rate. You will obviously go for what you can afford."

At least 15 people with Ahmed were scheduled to leave for Turkey this week. But the trafficker advised everyone not to disclose the date of their final departure for safety reasons.

Thanks to the news reports and social media, Afghans are more aware of the consequences of traveling with human traffickers. Thousands have drowned in rough seas, and more have languished in prisons. Some European nations have deported Afghans back to their country.

Therefore, Ahmed decided not to disclose the news to even some members of his close family. "My mother cries at everything. I did not want to make a big deal out of it, so she doesn’t need to know," he says.

Meanwhile, Afghan refugees in Europe are grappling with a new worry. They are concerned that European nations prefer Syrians over Afghans and people from other Asian and African countries.

The night before beginning his trip this week, Ahmed was less worried about the perilous journey ahead.

His major concern is how Europeans will treat him.

"I heard they favor the Syrians and don't care for the rest. I hope they won’t kick me out," he said.