[i] Welcome [name]. The first question is: Do you miss your homeland?

[r] Always. There is not a moment when I do not think about Afghanistan. Afghanistan is where I was born and where I grew up. I have many memories and here I always think of Afghanistan, my heart is always with Afghanistan.

[i] What are your memories of your homeland? I have many memories of Afghanistan. Some are fun and some are very bad. Shall I first talk about the nice memories or the bad ones? In Afghanistan you are in your own country. There are many opportunities and great potential to do good business but due to international political relationships our lives become very difficult.  Afghans are very friendly people.  It is true that in every country there is both good people and bad people. There are so many good people in Afghanistan. If you travel to other countries you can know if your country is good or bad. It goes without saying that when you meet bad people, people who have no respect for your life, you are also bad, but with good people you get better yourself. These are the others who use Afghanistan as their chess board. They have played us against each other under the names of Pashtian, Tajik Uzbek and Hazara for their own interests. That is why Afghanistan is in trouble and we have no control in our country. And many of us now live in other countries because of political issues. Afghanistan has seen a lot of war, but in the past no foreign government was able to conquer our country. But they still bring their international agenda into our country. Many rulers had tasted the taste of defeat in Afghanistan in the past. Only Great Britain has tried to invade Afghanistan three times and each time with defeat as a result.  It seems that the truth is constantly being manipulated by international political forces, and that is really painful for us.  Nobody tells the truth and nobody stands for the truth. I very often think about why we have changed so much, why we do not accept the truth, why we cannot unite on the situation in the world. Why is it so in Afghanistan? Why do we not choose peace? Until when should we see war? How long should people live in pain and blood? In the past, people did not know better, but now we have so much knowledge and power to use them in a good way.   But it seems that everything has become even worse.  Instead of getting better, we are in a worse situation.  In the past, two parties fought face-to-face, but now the foreign politicians are in their countries and with a remote control they make the bombs explode in our countries.

[i] Do you have any nice memories of Afghanistan?

[r] Yes, in my childhood I had no pain. I had many friends. I remember our games.

What games?

You have to stand on one leg and try to push as many other children as possible to the ground. Or sometimes we make games of bones for competitive games. We pin with marbles.

[i] How do you describe your family?

[r] In my family we are with 4 8 sisters and 4 brothers. My sisters are all married. My brother’s father went abroad to study before the Mujahedin came to Afghanistan. He My father never came back and because of the war in Kabul we moved from Kabul to Ghazni.  And we lost contact with my brother’s father. We went back to Ghazni, which is my birthplace. My father was a military officer during the King and President Dawood. Then he resigned and worked for himself. I was born in Ghazni in 1981. Not in the city of Ghazny, but in one of the districts, where my father worked as an army officer. Then my father was an army officer of the government. There was then also civil war and we moved to Kabul Ghazni is where my father was born.

[i] When did you decide to leave Afghanistan?

[r] Honestly I never thought to leave Afghanistan, maybe only to visit other countries.  But to leave my country forever was not my plan. But there comes a time when it is not only about you but also about the life of your wife and your children.  If you are alone you can bear a lot, but as a father you are responsible for your children and in 2008 I decided to translate Afghanistan.

Did you leave alone or were you with family?

[r] I left alone.

[i] How could you get from Afghanistan to overseas? Could you e.g. take the plane?   How long did it take to plan your trip?

[r] I had tried several times before to leave Afghanistan, before 2008. But I could not go beyond Iran. They sent me back to Afghanistan. It is really a painful story how people treated me in Iran. No respect, hitting, etc. That’s why I don’t feel like talking about it.  I didn’t want to come to Europe. I wanted to live in Iran. But countries like Pakistan and Arab countries UAE don’t have empathy for refugees.  They don’t care about you as a human being. They only think about what they can get from you. That’s why I wanted to live in Iran.  In 2008 I was told that I had to go to another country and I can’t stay in Iran.  You don’t believe me but before then I didn’t know anything about Belgium.  When I arrived in Turkey I had to choose which country to go to, and then I heard the name of Belgium.  I have to go to Greece first and then Italy and then France and finally I arrived in Belgium.

[i] How long did the whole trip take?

[r] Eight or nine months.

[i] How did you go to Turkey?

[r] I had to go through the ground route.

[i] Did your family agree with your decision to flee?

[r] No, they were usually afraid. For we also often heard that people drowned in the sea during the flight and so on.   In Greece, for example, everyone tries to go to Italy. Some have to hide under the engines of the cars.  If the driver shifts to a higher altitude, the person gets hurt.  Or other accidents e.g. in the boat, many people drown in the sea when there is a storm.  Although I knew about all the risks and possible dangers I decided to just continue with my trust in God.

[i] Do you remember what you took with you on your journey?

Yes, I had a big bag with lots of clothes. I also brought my wedding costume. On the borders of Iran and Turkey We were with almost 200 people. We were with people from Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan. The smuggler warned us to be careful here. We had to be very quiet and hide as much as possible. We were all very careful. It was very dark at night. 200 people was also too many. I was with the first group of people who crossed the border. Afterwards we had to wait for the other group to leave together. But the border guards realized that we were crossing the border. And then the smuggler said to us “Walk away” and don’t wait. and you don’t know where to go, just walk. Especially climbing the hills was very difficult. That’s why I had to leave my suitcase behind. otherwise I couldn’t walk away quickly. Once you leave the hill behind, you are in Turkey and the agents of Iran can’t stop you. On the other side of the border you are safe but a lot of people couldn’t climb the hill quickly and they were arrested by the guards. The guards asked us to come back. But of course we don’t. The people who were arrested were very badly beaten by the police. But we had to leave them behind.

[i] Do you miss your wedding costume?

[r] Yes of course! But it’s true.

[i] Do you also have the expression that the material loss is not important as long as you survive?

[r] Yes indeed. If you lose your life then you lose everything. You don’t get that back.

[i] Could you contact your family during your flight to inform them?

[r] No, not at all. I couldn’t contact them, they couldn’t reach me. Because of the war there was no phone. Nowadays in Ghazni it is possible to call or via the internet, but that was not the case at the time. During the day you can call someone and talk to them, but you can’t do that in the evening.


[r] Still. That’s because the Taliban are in the region and also because the government doesn’t want to improve the infrastructure.

In which city of Belgium did you arrive?

[r] Brussels.

[i] Can you describe that day?

[r] I arrived during the day. I was with someone who could also speak English. I myself can only speak my mother tongue. Only Farsi, Dari, Pashto and Urdu, which nobody speaks here. I had no idea where to go or what to do. I was totally weird with everything. But that person didn’t dare to address people and ask a question. I could only say “Excuse me”, that I learned from the films. I said “Excuse me” to people but I couldn’t talk any further. So I pushed my friend to ask questions. Afterwards, when I asked what people were saying, he didn’t say anything and I had no idea what they were talking about. Then I realized that I had to do something myself. I went to the police and said “No passport.” The moment the policeman started talking, I couldn’t understand anything anymore. He says “OK” I say “OK” and that was the only word I could understand. I never forget that day. I was too tired and frustrated and I was sorry, why did I go to a country where I can’t understand anything and where nobody understands me. That was really bad for me. Finally I was in a park. I was searching around Brussels from 11 to 17, but no one could help me. In that park I saw someone who looked like an Asian. He was Indian. I asked him if he spoke to Urdu. He said “no”. I said “Interesting, you understand my question.” He laughed and said “Okay, what are you looking for?” I said I was new here and I don’t know what to do or go there. He said it’s too late to go to the police station now, but I can go to the police. I said I tried but the police didn’t arrest me. He said: Go to the police and it will be okay. When I came in there was no one there. I asked someone in the street “Police” and he showed me the way. I told the police that I don’t have a passport and I want to stay here. He let me in and first I had to put everything I had with me on the table. And I gave my fingerprints. After the fingerprints someone asked me about my details, my language, name, etc.

[i] In what language?

[r] I was with my friend who could speak English. The officer asked my country of origin. I said Afghanistan but he said I look Arabic. Luckily I had my Afghan ID and I gave it to the agent. After a few minutes the agent said that I am Pakistani and not Afghan. The officer took my friend in another room for some questions. Afterwards I had to answer the questions myself. It was cold then and I wanted to spend the night somewhere.

[i] What month was it?

[r] It was March.  March 2009. In March 2009 I arrived in Belgium. Because it was still cold, I was wearing a warm coat. The policeman told me to take off my coat I thought I should take a shower and then I go to the interview. The officer showed me the way to another room and then I realized that it’s like a prison. I was too tired to just ask something. There was a toilet and a bed to sleep in the corner. My friend wasn’t sleepy, but I was. I went to sleep. At 11 o’clock in the evening the policeman came back. He left us outside. I got my coat back and he gave us some papers and sent us away. I wanted to stay there. It was too late and we knew nothing in the city. But the policeman told us to leave. Outside it was raining. We had to find a place to sleep. I told my friend that we had to find a hotel. But he said we don’t have to, we can also sleep in the park. On the way we found a night shop and the person there was Pakistani. I started to talk to the shopkeeper in Urdu and asked him where we could stay. And the shop owner gave us the address of a hotel. In the hotel there was an African man on post. He asked for our passports. I said that we only have the papers of the police. We slept the night there and in the morning we went to the police station. But we couldn’t get in because there were a lot of people waiting for us there. They sent us to a shelter called Kleine Kastel.

[i] How did you go to the shelter?

[r] They gave us an address and together with other people who knew the way better we went on foot to the shelter. I was there for 3 weeks and then they sent me to the shelter of Kapellen. I have many memories of my stay in Kapellen. I was there until 2010. Around New Year I moved to Antwerp to an apartment.

[i] New Year 2010?

[r] Yes.

[i] Then you didn’t stay in the reception centre that long?

[r] 9 months in Kapellen.

[i] How did you feel in the beginning? Were you afraid, tense.

[r] I was not afraid but I was always in my own solitude. In my childhood, I was always like this. Here, with the stress and pressure of the circumstances, I felt more lonely. There were some people I could talk to but not so many. After three months someone told me that you have to start learning the language from here. I laughed and I told that person that I can’t speak my mother tongue very well, how can I learn the language from here? He said if you live here then you have to learn the language from here. I was really convinced that that was impossible for me. That person is someone I really admire and he has helped me enormously. Like a real friend here. He had pushed me anyway and gave me hope that it is possible. I enrolled in a school and I had to take an intake exam, which was strange for me.

Where was the school?

[r] In Chapels.

[i] So you were still in the shelter then?

[r] Yes indeed.  I received a letter from the school with the date for the intake exam. I also took another resident with me as an interpreter. He had been in the reception centre for a long time and he was able to speak Dutch well. At the school I had to answer some questions on paper. e.g: Circle the letter R. The other question was just to match different words. That was to estimate my knowledge of the alphabet. The teacher asked for the letter S to be circled. I don’t know the letter S. I looked very hard and I said that there is no S on the paper. The teacher gave the paper back and said yes. find the letter S. A few more times back and forth and I couldn’t find it. After three weeks I got the result by letter and I could go to class. The first day of school was very difficult and I was searching. I had to write down my name. But my name is really long 11 letters. I had to write down my name 1000 times to learn that well. Back then it was very difficult to even write my own name but now I write poems and stories.

[i] That’s impressive.  Did you go to school in Afghanistan?

[r] There is no regular education in Afghanistan. You have school for one month and then no school for six months. In Kabul I was still small. the time of my education we moved to Ghazni and far from the city. I never had a stable time at school. I wanted it very much but I also had to work in the farm and so I could never get an education. Unfortunately, I cannot read or write in my mother tongue. That is really painful for me. But now I try my best to learn my mother tongue as well.

[i] You also write poems in Dutch.

[r] Yes, that’s right.

[i] What is the subject of your poems and stories?

[r] I usually write about my personal stories and feelings. Also about the war and people’s problems. I have many thoughts and stories that are all in my head. I am now trying to write everything down. I just write about the events in my life and people who read those stories and poems find them very interesting. My stories are very moving for people. But I try not to bring the pain from me to the people but hope and positive aspects. I know what pain is what it does to people. That’s why I don’t feel like giving that pain to people. But still there is pain in my stories and poems. Pain never goes away. You can’t hide the pain.

[i] Do you remember the first night you were in Chapels? Were you glad you had a roof over your head? Were you stressed? How did you feel then?

[r] I had entered a new environment. I was just really tired and lonely. I was grateful that they (my family. The interpreter) I was still alive but I was far from my family and I missed them very much. I have been here for ten years but I never forget my country and my memories of my life there. And I’m going to see what the future is going to be like.

[i] When did your wife come here?

[r] She came much later. Because then I had to collect all the documents first. First my documents had to be in order. Then I went there to put her documents in order. A lot of paperwork is needed. She finally came here on 20 January in 2018.

Were your children born here or in Afghanistan?

[r] No, my children were born in Afghanistan.  I have four children. Two boys and two girls.

[i] Do they live with you here in Belgium?  How is life in Belgium for them? Have they gotten used to life here?

[r] A little…

[r] The language is very difficult for them. My older boys They learn faster because they went to school longer. Sometimes it is difficult to help them with schoolwork. But they are still young and they learn everything very quickly. It has only been four months since their arrival.

[i] What was your first impression of the people here? How did you experience it in the beginning? Did you find people here warm? What is your experience in it?

[r] If you don’t speak the language of people, it is difficult to get to know people. I have my best impression of older women who are very nice and they always offer help. Men are friendly but less open. For me personally, I got more help from women. When I wanted to ask for an address I always asked older women and they were more patient. They gave all the details and I could find my way. Men usually didn’t want to talk or even stop. In general, I think people here are good people. They don’t interfere with your business. They don’t judge you by your clothes, your life, etc. They don’t judge you by your clothes, your life, etc. They don’t judge you by the way you look. If you know the language you can communicate well.

[i] Do you have more friends from Afghanistan or Belgium?

[r] In Belgium I have many friends from different countries. I have always tried to have Belgian friends. Because I could learn the language better. When I wrote something I asked them to improve the text for me. My Belgian friends are always encouraging and helpful and most of the time they are female friends.

[i] What do you find worst when you come into contact with people from Afghanistan?

[r] The only thing I mind is that Afghan people think negatively. They can’t deal with people in a peaceful way. That is really painful for me when they are fighting each other here. We are all victims of war and hatred in our country. Why do we have to have hatred and conflict here? The only thing I hate is war or someone who is not peaceful, or someone who is violent, which is very painful. Violence with weapons is especially bad for me. I don’t feel like being around those people.

[i] How do you see the difference between your culture in Afghanistan and the culture here?

[r] There is a big difference between our cultures. It is true that here you have freedom. You can be yourself. There are some standards that we don’t have in our countries. For example, here there is always respect between children and adults. Children can ask questions or express themselves. But in our countries, children shouldn’t ask anything and should always sit still when adults talk to each other. This makes a potential nightingale a dull and stupid person. That’s not good and we have to change it. Children learn with questions and as an adult you have to encourage and answer them. This is very important for the upbringing of children. There are many other good things here. I have a lot of respect for the culture here.

[i] Was your family religious?

[r] Yes, it was.

[i] Was it difficult for you to practice your religion here in the beginning? As an adult, it’s okay, but for young people, it’s something else. E.g. for minors this can have a negative impact. They realize that too late. For example, you can buy alcohol in any shop here. As an adult you can just choose, but young people are more vulnerable. I am still the same person when it comes to religion. These are my values and norms.

[i] How old is your eldest son?

[r] Seventeen years old.

[i] How old are the other children?

[r] Fourteen, twelve, and two years old.

[i] How do you treat their upbringing here in Belgium to prevent them from going down the wrong path?

[r] I think it’s very good that drugs and alcohol are forbidden until the age of 18. There are always rules. I can only give them advice and discuss the consequences of their behaviour with them. For the rest, it’s their choice and I’m out of control. I show the right way and the wrong way. And what my father said to me. I am responsible until they grow up. After they grow up, I have no right to control them.

[i] How is life here as a Muslim? Are there any difficulties?

[r] No. Not at all. Here islam is accepted and there is respect. There may also be mosques and you can come together as a community. In our countries there is no tolerance for other religions but here everyone can practice his religion.

[i] Have you ever experienced discrimination because of your nationality or religion in Belgium?

[r] Not for everyone but for some people it is. But I never react to that behaviour. There are such people everywhere, we have such people even worse. These people don’t understand our situation or why we left our countries. Afghanistan has many beautiful things that are not here, but we have security here.

[i] What culture do you want to educate your children with?

[r] Personally, I am someone who tries to be good with people of other religions or opinions, this is my goal. I can’t say those people are not good or they should become like me. This is also in my stories. And any politician or leader who doesn’t accept this is a bad leader. We can never remove a religion or ethnicity. What I want for my children is for them to embrace people with a different culture or religion. Personally I don’t have a problem with other religions because it is in my religion that we have to respect other people. When politicians call Islam negative and violent, that is the problem of the politicians and has nothing to do with the core of Islam. Some say that the Koran promotes violence, but I think they don’t have a good knowledge of the Koran. It says in the Koran that “if you kill someone then that’s like killing a nation”.

[i] As a citizen in Belgium what is your vision for our society?

[r] To a certain extent there are many good rules and laws here in Belgium. Belgium is really a small world with all nationalities. And this is for me a very important and pleasant one. I have three different places in my life that I never forget. First there is the life of my grandfathers. My own life in Afghanistan, and here in Belgium. All bad experiences are different but my roots are in Afghanistan where I grew up. I have so many great memories. And Belgium is where my whole life has changed and I became someone else. In my life I have seen many bad behaviors, usually very dangerous, I can’t believe I survived. The only thing that really hurt me was that I didn’t have an education. I never asked myself that question before. In Belgium, I started asking myself, “Why can’t I do certain things? Why don’t I have some skills?” If I had an education, I would be able to shape my life faster here. Sometimes it moves me that I could know as many things as I could read and write. I used to be in pain because I didn’t know so much. But after years of pain and dedication I no longer have any pain. Because now I can know everything. Here you get opportunities and support to go further. But you have to work very hard and dedicate yourself. You can’t achieve anything if you don’t work hard. Since 2009 I have only obtained the level 2.2 diploma. I could only take the level 2.3 class without taking the exam, because I was going on a trip. But still my Dutch is really good because I learned a lot in informal ways. E.g. from seniors or volunteers. Here there are many initiatives to practice and improve the language. I think this is great. You didn’t have a chance to go back to school when you were working, but you do now. I advise the newcomers to seize these opportunities. They think you need the language for nationality or work. And if you have a job or nationality, you don’t have to learn any more. Or some say it’s too late for them to become doctors or engineers. You don’t have to become a doctor, not everyone has to become a doctor. Otherwise, there will be no one left to do the other jobs. You can become a good painter, a writer. There are many jobs you can do. I don’t have that many skills, but my work is just as important for society. What I do now cannot be done by a doctor or an engineer. I can’t do the work of a doctor and a doctor can’t do my job. That’s normal.

[i] What were you doing in Afghanistan?

[r] I worked in the construction industry in almost all cases. I can also do carpentry. I also do paintwork. I find it interesting to work with colours. I can also work on the farm. I love doing this kind of work. I also enjoy gardening. In my own home I have about 40 flowers.

[i] Could you find a job here in that area? What were you looking for as a job here?

[r] There are many jobs here. There are also many jobs in the area of my experience. But if you already have a job, it is sometimes difficult to change jobs. Another problem is language. If you can’t speak the language well, it’s hard to get your favorite job. I wanted to work in the construction sector. Gardening is in my blood too. My father was a good farmer. But here I started with article 60 and that was my first job. I just had to get it. In the company where I work, there are many different jobs. At first I was very happy there, but at that company I had problems with my colleagues and I was tired of it. Then I found another job.

[i] what are you doing now?

[r] I collect dirt on the water and in nature reserves.  The disadvantage is that it is really stressful.

[i] Why?

[r] For you are always thinking about why as a human being we treat nature so badly. Why do we only keep our houses clean and not nature either? Why do we not care about nature? That thought gives me fear and makes me sad. Here everything is facilitated by the government. Why is someone throwing his garbage into the Scheldt? Why? It costs nothing and everything is facilitated to be sorted. But still some people don’t do that.

[i] And what is the advantage of your work?

[r] The advantage is that in the summer I really walk a lot in nature. Every day 30 km on foot. Sometimes 25 km. At least 15 km. And I like it very much. I get money and do sports. The disadvantage is that people do not care for nature. I have removed more than 100 bikes from the water of the Scheldt, or tires, fridges, washing machines, etc. That is really bad. And this makes me very sad and I can’t do my job with pleasure.

[i] Do you sometimes participate in social activities? At. excursions, group activities etc.?

[r] Yes, I always enjoy getting to know new people. I am very interested in different cultures. When I was alone here and my family wasn’t here yet, I could do more such activities. Now that my family is here, I also have to spend time with my family. I need to be available to them as well. Therefore it is not always possible to go to the activities. Sometimes I do. I like the theatre. I also do theatre. And sometimes I just go to watch. I also like to learn new hobbies and I intend to learn new skills. I love theatre, I also spelled in a pear punch. In general I like to work with people. For me it doesn’t matter which work. What I really mind is free money without work. I believe you have to earn your money and then you can spend it.

[i] What do you wish for the future of you and your family?

[r] For myself I always wish for a world without war. I have so much pain from war. Although I want to follow the news from the BBC or other channels but I can’t do that. There is so much bad news every day. Not only me but many people are tired, so much news about war, hatred, and violence in the world. I always pray that God has mercy and we stop all this war and hatred. For my family, I want to build as good a life as possible for them and help them with their education and education. For the first time, they are responsible for their lives.

Imagine that one day your country will become peaceful again, will you go back?

Yes, of course. I wanted to work in Afghanistan and live in my country but now there are so many bad people who won’t let us live in peace and quiet. If they leave, I will even leave for Afghanistan tomorrow morning.

[i] As a refugee who has been living in Belgium for 10 years far from your homeland, do you advise other people to flee?

Never. I’ve been in so much pain that I don’t want it for anyone else. For someone who can’t live there it’s something else. Here we don’t have the kind of problems that people in Afghanistan experience. But as a refugee you have a good reason to leave your country, but there are people who come for other reasons. I say to those people that they shouldn’t do that if they don’t have to. Many people think that in Europe you get money without a job. But the reality is something else. After ten years, I still have debts. So this is the reality and it is up to them to decide. It is true that some people also have a lot of money but personally I have lost a lot.

[i] Like what?

[i] Like peace and tranquility.

[i] Before the war?

Yes to the war.

[r] There is also the question of time. Here I had to start from scratch and until I could settle down here and raise my children, I had to take care of everything. Life is something completely different here than living in Afghanistan. Here everything goes via the computer and the internet. There you don’t get a bill for water and electricity. Life there is easier. You eat what you find in your farm. Here you work the whole month and at the end of the month you have to spend everything to pay your bills.

[i] You mean a simple life?

[r] Yes indeed.

[i] What image did you have of the people of Europe before you came here?

[r] We have an expression that means that some things are only fun from afar. If you really experience it, then it’s not so much fun anymore. I heard that life in the West is fantastic and you have everything there. Such great stories about the West. There are also people who lie that they have a luxurious life in the West and so on. But those stories are not realistic. For such a life you have to have a very good job or speak the language professionally. But people don’t think about it and when they come here they are really disappointed. My motivation was actually a life without conflict and war. A luxury life was never the first motivation for me. The fact is that I am more affected by the war and the news here than I am in Afghanistan. Because here you get in the news the number of people who are dead or the number of attacks etc… There you don’t get news every day. It contributes to your pain on top of the pain of being far from home. And there is nothing you can do.

[i] Are you in contact with your family in Afghanistan?

[i] Are you going back to Afghanistan?

[r] Yes a few times. I can’t go back to Ghazni, my city, because of security. I haven’t been there for almost 15 years and I have so many memories of it. I missed it there very much. I would like to see how big those trees have become, or are no longer. Back to the farm or the places where I walked with my father. I miss everything. But I visit my family in another city where I feel safe.

[i] Thank you very much [name] for sharing your story with us. Is there anything else you want to say?

[r] I have so much to say. If anyone is interested in listening to my story, I say, “Don’t waste your life.” Always do the right thing and learn as much as you can. Don’t waste your time. Think about the future and do it for yourself, not just for work or money. Step by step you go further. If you have different skills then you can always survive in all circumstances. Life is not stable and you should always be prepared. This is my advice for people who are new here. Always commit yourself to something good. I wish everyone a peaceful life. I love all people and am always ready to learn something from everyone.

Thank you very much, [name].