The only thing Abbas can see is the black ocean and the night sky all around him. He is on a raft in the middle of the ocean between Turkey and Greece. The raft is originally intended to carry 20 people, but is now overfilled and carrying almost 70 souls. The raft is taking in water and the only thing Abbas can see is the light from the moon. He feels the moon is his final hope. He prays that the moon will keep them all safe.
By: Vibeke Hoem / Translated by: Kathrine Dørum Middelthon
Abbas speaks with a hushed voice, he appears exhausted and almost apathetic when we meet him in Eva Halverson’s home. She is a Drop in the Ocean volunteer and met Abbas in June 2017. At the time she was volunteering as his Norwegian teacher at A Drop in the Oceans Drop-in centre in Athens. She had previously volunteered for two weeks in the Greek refugee camp in Skaramangas, Athens. Abbas is sick and tired of retelling his story to psychologists, doctors and authorities. He feels that no one understands his situation. ‘’No one understands how I feel inside and they all have their own opinion about my situation’’ he says. Nevertheless, he wants to share his story.
Abbas has been on the run since he was six months old. He was born in the Jaghori district, Ghazni province in Afghanistan. However, he has lived most of his life in exile, in Pakistan and Iran. His family fled to Pakistan when he was six months old, due to the war in Afghanistan. However, since they were living there illegally, they were deported back to Afghanistan in 2009. Abbas will never forget the bus ride back: they were detained by Taliban, who arrest families from the ethnic group Hazara. While in Taliban captivity they were mistreated and separated. Abbas and his mother were separated from his father and brother. This was the last time Abbas would see his father, and he still doesn’t know where he is or even if he is alive. His brother eventually ended up in Norway where he has been for the last eight years.
After their release, Abbas and his mother fled back to Pakistan, but they were still not safe. ‘’Hazaras are killed all the time and people are even encouraged to kill us’’ Abbas says. His mother worried that he was not safe in Pakistan. This is the beginning of Abbas journey on his own. In 2013 at the age of 13 he runs, alone, to Iran with the help of people smugglers. After a while, he manages to get some odd jobs. One of them is at a slaughterhouse, but he is afraid to move outside in fear of the Taliban.
He lived in Iran for 3 years, all alone and illegally, until one night when he was arrested by the Iranian police along with other Afghans. They registered his personal information, took his fingerprints and gave him an ID card allowing him to move around freely in Iran. Simultaneously, he is registered into a troop whose aim was to defend holy sites in Syria. As a reward, Abbas and his fellow Afghans are promised Iranian citizenship upon their return. Abbas is only 16 years old and scared. The fear forces him to continue fleeing towards Europe.
He travels through Iran, into Turkey and then onto the island of Chios, Greece. The refugee camp there is torture for refugees, with abuse and maltreatment. Due to his low age, Greek authorities move him to a group of minors , and while he lives here he gets acquainted with Eva. Shortly thereafter Greek authorities request that Norwegian authorities process an application for protection, and this was granted. This lands Abbas in Norway and Norwegian authorities pay his travelling expenses.
In August 2017 Abbas arrives in Norway. First he lives in a transit centre before moving on to Asker, Hvalstad and then on to Kongsvinger refugee centre. Eva keeps in touch with him all along, visiting him and he also visits her. Abbas has trouble adjusting in the centre due to all the noise and he hardly sleeps a night.
Abbas 18th birthday is approaching, and the day before, on the 29th of January, he is called into an interview with the Foreign Ministry. Shortly thereafter, on the 9th of February, his application is rejected, but he is not told until the 16th during a telephone conversation with his lawyer. The refusal means that he has to go back to Afghanistan and the reason is that he is considered an adult, it is believed that he will not be persecuted or abused if he goes back and that he does not have any affiliation to Norway.
”Abbas is terrified to go back, seeing that he is from the minority group Hazara and believes that he will be in danger in Afghanistan’’ Eva says. She also explains about an attack on the Hazaras in a Shia mosque a few months ago where several people were killed.
Most of all Abbas has trouble understanding why Norwegian authorities helped him come to Norway for 7 months, only to send him back now. Send him back to a country he does not know, have any relations to or has hardly lived in his whole life. A country where he has no relatives and where he will live in fear of the Taliban who has already abused him.
‘’Abbas hit a new low after receiving his rejection’’ Eva says. She helped him get a 10-day leave from the refugee centre so that he could stay at her home. During this time his lawyer submitted a request for postponement of the appeal case until March 19th. This has been granted, but time is running out and in less than 2 weeks a new review is due. The hope is that Abbas will be able to avoid going to Afghanistan. The days are filled with appointments with a psychologist, doctors, meetings, worries and fear. Abbas is living with trauma from the years as a refugee and in fear of being found by Taliban. In addition to this he is almost completely deaf on one ear.
For Abbas it is very difficult that people with apparently happy lives are the ones helping him. ‘’If they have not experienced similar problems, how will they understand?’’ he asks. Eva explains that talking to psychologists and others with ‘’a happy life’’ is difficult for Abbas as he feels they are unable to understand. Over and over again he explains that he has had enough and how he wants them to settle his case soon.
‘’Abbas has nightmares and wakes up frequently’’ Eva says. ‘’We will take good care of him while he is here. I will do anything I can, we are all desperate now’’.
I ask if there is anything he wants to add and he says: ‘’I don’t understand why Norwegian authorities are doing this to me. If they do not want me here, why do they let me stay here for 7 months before sending me back to Afghanistan. First I had to wait in Greece for a year before I could come here and now I have to go back to Afghanistan. If they did not want me here anyway, I could have applied to another European country. I was sent directly to Norway and now I have to go to Afghanistan. This disgusts me.’’