[i] Goodday [name] , tell me, what country are you from?

[r] I am [name] , I am from Afghanistan I was born in Afghanistan.  And I came to Belgium in 2015. And since then I live here.

[i] Do you still think a lot about your life in Afghanistan? Do you still miss your country? Your family?

[r] In the beginning I do.  When I arrived here, I missed my country, my family, my friends, I missed everything there, but after a year or so, not anymore, I always think about them, but I don’t miss him anymore. I feel very happy here, I feel completely at home here.

[i] Tell me, why did you come here, why did you have to leave your country?

[r] Because of the war and because of the Taliban, my life was in danger and therefore I had to leave,

[i] Was it dangerous living in Afghanistan at the time.

[r] It was for me at that time and still for me, was there, my life was in danger, so I had to leave Afghanistan. And I fled here.

[i] Is there a big difference in the country before and after the Taliban? How was life in Afghanistan before the Taliban?

[r] Before the Taliban I was very small, I don’t know anything about it, but I hear, I’ve heard a lot, that was better then after the Taliban.

[i] How old are you now?

[r] I’m 26 now.

[i] Tell me [name] , when did you leave Afghanistan? Did you…  Did you leave immediately? Did you go to an embassy? How was it?

No, I first went to Kabul by car, and then, from Kabul I went to another province, which is close to Iran.  And then, through the mountains we went to Iran.

[i] On foot?

[r] Yes.

[i] And how long did it take?

[r] At least 4 days, 4 days until we arrived in Iran.

[i] Were you with your family? With friends?

[r] No, I left my house all by myself. On the way there were many groups, I was mostly with other people, people I didn’t know, some of them were not Afghans themselves, there were people from Pakistan, India, not Indians but Pakistanis, Iranians, Especially people who were on the run.

For the same reasons?

[r] I don’t know, then we were like that, We were all stressed, no one could ask, to someone else: why did you run away from Afghanistan? We had very little opportunity to talk to other people along the way.

[i] Have you been able to sleep, eat, drink water? What was it like?

[r] It was very difficult, in the mountains we got nothing, we could not buy anything.  On the mountains you can’t find anything but water, most of the time we had bottles of water, but when they were gone, we had nothing else. We couldn’t find any water there. but in the mountains it was very difficult, It was one night and, and a half day, we left Afghanistan at 8 o’clock, and then we arrived in Iran the next day, in the evening. everything was on foot, but we took 1.5 liters of water beforehand, We took it with us, I also had two but it was suddenly on the way. Nobody wanted to give his water to anyone else. Everyone only had 2 bottles of other 3, I only had 2, they were on their way and then I had no water.

[i] Have you been able to say “hello” to your family? Or did you just leave?

[r] I was able to say goodbye to my brother, but not to my mother, not to my mother, not to my sisters, I couldn’t say anything.

I understand that.  And when you arrived in Iraq…

[r] Iran.

Iran, sorry.  Was it easier?

No, in Iran we had a hard time because, most of the time, we were in places, for example… in someone’s garage, or in a room. We could never go outside, we could never buy anything or, We just couldn’t go outside, otherwise… they picked us up, and they wanted to send us back and then maybe I was in jail for a month or so, because we were there illegally.

[i] The ordinary people from Iran? Or the police? What do you mean?

No, the police. But the ordinary people, if they saw you, they could tell the police, there is someone who isn’t from here. That happened but fortunately not with me.

How much time did you have to stay in Iran?

[r] About 15 days, I think…  Actually, I don’t know, it was 5 years ago and when I had so much stress. I wasn’t counting the days, I think 12 or 13 days,

More than a week for sure. And after that?

After that we went through other mountains to Turkey.

[i] Always on foot.

Yes, always, because of the borders always on foot but in some places, within the country we also went on foot. Along the borders was always on foot

Wasn’t it dangerous in the mountains?

[r] It was very dangerous, in Turkey, the border between Turkey and…  It was very dark and we couldn’t see anything, there were stones, Or mountains that went up very high and down, up, We didn’t have any special shoes with us, and so, We didn’t have much water, no special clothes,

It was cold.

[r] Yes, it was very cold. Then it was really super cold, I just didn’t have a sweater, I only had a coat but… it was a very thin coat, against water. against the rain, it was really cold, we were walking so we didn’t feel so super cold, in the end we sat down somewhere and, then I felt really cold. it was so cold, I never had that.

[i] Were you in the mountains a lot of time?

At the borders between Afghanistan and Pakistan we were 2 days and 2 nights, At the border between Turkey and Iran we were also 2 nights oh no, 1 night sorry, 1 night we were at the border and the next night we arrived in Turkey And then we …, we have for a long time, on foot, very long walked from border to a village.


[r] Goed to a village so that was super far so about 1 day we walked.

Wow, were the people sympathetic or ?  Did the people help you in the first village? where you were in Turkey or not especially?

[r] No, No, certainly not, We ourselves have seen very little that was places where very few people lived

But have you been able to eat?

[r] No, food, that was difficult. We had bought something in Iran. Only the people we were with gave us food.

[i] Mmmm….

[r] For example, we got fish or something like that in small boxes, but they had run out on the way and then we arrived in Turkey, and then we did … we got food but very little

[i] Mmmmm…  And then … ?  So you were already in Turkey ?

[r] And after Turkey we are to … Bulgaria gone, also on foot

On foot, too?

[r] All right, sometimes by car, pieces by car, pieces on foot like that… Not always by car, and from Bulgaria we went to Serbia. That was also sometimes on foot, sometimes by car At the borders was always on foot, we always went on foot. And from Bulgaria we went to Serbia and from Serbia to … To ………., I think to Slovakia I don’t remember… I don’t remember, because we didn’t stay long in those countries. Sometimes by train, sometimes by car, And um ….  And in the end I have been on the road for about 55 days or so.

[i] 55 days?

[r] Something like that, about… From Afghanistan at home to Brussels.

Ah yes, and how did you get to Brussels ? Did you want to go to Brussels …. ?

We were with a group, a number of people We all arrived together in Germany But then we searched for a long time for where to go. But that was also without a ticket, We had no ticket. So we sat in the train and the last stop of the train was … Brussels, erm, … Midi, I think I don’t remember, that was a long time ago. But I think it was Brussels-Midi.

[i] And you were with how many, on the train to Brussels?

[r] I think on the train to Brussels, we were with 3 , I think 3 or 4 , but those were also people who came from Afghanistan. But we could not talk,

[i] Ahh yes,

[r] Because everyone was scared and nobody wanted to talk to anyone else. Then we arrived in Brussels and in Brussels we were… Did everyone go separate and that was also at night, 1 hour or so And I had no place to go somewhere to sleep or somewhere to rest And then I stayed awake until the morning, Allé, first I stayed in the station for a while but at three or four hours were … When the people were cleaning and then we had to go outside And then I had to, …, then I had to go outside, outside I walked all night and asked people, and I didn’t dare to ask people And they couldn’t understand me because I only talked Pashtu and Farsi … And a bit of English but I didn’t know how to ask Where can I apply for asylum so that was difficult for me … So for 2 days I was looking for it. What should I do? I had no other option and in the end someone did help me and then he took me to DVZ to Brussels-North. And there I was able to apply for asylum and after asylum I was still outside for 2 days. Because then it was very busy and a lot of people were waiting … and then via the Red Cross we stayed in a hotel for 4 days … And after those 4 days they first put me in a small asylum centre … Sent to Brussels, and I was there 1 night and after that 1 night they sent me … to Antwerp, to Broechem.

[i] To Broechem?

[r] Yes, so I arrived in Broechem , by train … And … I had papers on which that address was written and I wanted to go to that address And there it said : You have to take that bus 420 or 21 but I didn’t know where it stands But I had gotten on the right bus.

[i] Were you alone?

No, I was with another Afghan boy who had been sent here with me. He was an Afghan Iranian. He was an Afghan but born in Iran. and his family still lives there and he came here from Iran. But not with me. With other people. He happened to have to come here with me. And he only knew Farsi and Pashtu. And no English and I could do a bit of English And we both couldn’t do Dutch at all. but then it was raining very hard that evening, around 5 o’clock it was … And … I didn’t dare to ask anyone.  But in the end I had to ask someone because I didn’t know what to do. and then I asked a lady and that was raining so hard that lady was waiting for tram 9 I still remember that. The lady was waiting for tram 9 and I asked in English ……………………….. I want to go there… The lady is looking at the papers … Ah yes, you are at the right place so you have to take bus 420 or 421 there. Then I tell her, but I don’t know where the bus stop is. And then the lady said, come with me for a while and then she missed a tram 9 so for me that was very sweet of her. And then she missed a tram for me and took me to the bus stop. And then she also told the bus driver “the boy has to go to that address”. And when you’re there, be sure to let those people out of there. And then the driver said: yes, okay, that’s good. And then I said to the lady “thank you” and that was super sweet. And then I was really super grateful. And then we were on the bus. And …. On the way … that was 45 minutes that we had to sit on the bus. But every 10 minutes …. I went to ask that bus driver Yes …. Are we there? And then he said: Wait a minute. When we arrive, I’ll tell him. And 10 minutes later again and after 10 minutes later again so 2 or 3 times I asked and the third time he said: Are you new here or don’t you trust me? Then I said: Yes, sir, I trust you but I don’t know … I’m new here and I’m unsure about the right stop otherwise we can’t find the address. And that bus driver did drop us off at the right bus stop. Then we are on foot to Berchem … I’m sorry Broechem. To the asylum centre.

[i] [name] , do you remember in which month it was?

[r] Yes, it was November. November 18, I think.

[i] So, it was cold.

[r] Yes, it was cold.

So, you took the bus to the asylum center, Did you have to walk a lot to the asylum center?

[r] In Broechem?


[r] The asylum center in Broechem is a bit far away, from the bus stop, about a quarter of an hour’s walk. I didn’t have a cell phone with me, I didn’t have a GPS either, just a piece of paper with the address on it, but we were lucky, there were other people who also went to the asylum centre, other refugees, we just followed the people.

Yeah, nice, and when you were on your way to the asylum centre, did you feel any safer then? What did you think?

[r] Yes, but, I was….

[i] Less stress or something?

[r] When we arrived in Brussels. On the way, I didn’t feel safe anywhere!  And that was normal, I was really too scared and didn’t know where I was. And I didn’t know what to do and I didn’t know what was going to happen. and then we arrived at the asylum centre and…. And that first one…. It was evening… 6 o’clock in the evening. And first we got food and after dinner I got a room, with four people and then I could sleep for a long time, yes … A few days, really long sleep and well rested.

[i] Yes, I can imagine that.  After 15 days you have finally been able to sleep on a bed. And I ate warm food !

[r] But that was only 2 nights so … There I could really rest.

[i] And how long did you stay in the asylum centre?

[r] From November 2015 to July 2017, I was at the Broechem shelter so I lived there. And in July, I was … I left.

[i] And was it OK? How was it ? It was more than a year.

[r] Yes, sure. it was….

[i] Was it good? What memories do you have of that period?

[r] … Yes, I do remember …. the first… days that I was in the centre that there were also other refugees of different nationalities, Afghans, Iranians, Eritreans, Somalis, Iraqis, Syrians, and that was super interesting for me to be with so many … different nationalities.  And to see how, what kind of people they are. And even Belgians. So for me it was all new and ….  but I did … but unfortunately we couldn’t talk to each other because …. Some people who only spoke Arabic, some only Eritrees, or that language of Eritrea, Somalia, who spoke their own language and we spoke, I only spoke Pashtu and Dari so that was a bit difficult. We could not communicate with each other. I could not speak Dutch and neither could she. So that was difficult but we just looked at each other and sometimes … sometimes we played, when we… , we had such a small … snooker place where we could … That was not a snooker place but billiards. and sometimes we occasionally went there to play but we could not understand each other, so that was a bit difficult but also fun. People were … some people were super sweet and friendly.

[i] And did you have activities during the day e.g. Dutch lessons or walking.

[r] In the beginning 4 months I could not study. I couldn’t study Dutch, because I didn’t have an orange card and then I waited about 4 months until I got an orange card and after that orange card I immediately started to learn Dutch.

[i] And what is an orange card ?

[r] Orange card is not a nationality card but if you apply for asylum … And after 4 months you get a card called an orange card. This is a residence permit and is always valid for three months. After 3 months, the municipality has to put a new stamp on the card.

[i] This means that you are always waiting for an answer?

[r] Yes, that means that you are still waiting. And after the orange card, you can also apply for another card from the municipality, which is called a work permit, and you can work legally with that work permit…. but first you have to wait 4 months … and then you get an orange card.  So then I got an orange card and I can’t register for it, in the Dutch lesson but I really wanted to learn Dutch because … For me it was really very important and still is important, but then it was even more important because … I couldn’t communicate with anyone. Even if I had an appointment with the doctor, I had to explain everything in sign language. So that was super difficult.

[i] And was it a patient doctor?  Anyway, a doctor who has gone to great lengths to…

[r] Yes, yes, certainly. Occasionally I had someone who spoke English but… but if he wasn’t available we’d be unlucky, wouldn’t we?

[i] And when you got out of it… ? asylum center left had you already received an answer by then or not ?

[r] No, when I was in the asylum centre I didn’t get a good answer, so I got a negative one first. So negative means that I was not allowed to stay here … And then, after the negative answer, I submitted an appeal, and then I could stay there temporarily,

And do you remember why you got a negative answer? What did people say?

[r] That was such a paper… then… I couldn’t read that, and I couldn’t understand that either. Those were just a few…. that they said.  We don’t believe that or I don’t know.  I still don’t know why they made a negative decision.

[i] So you appealed and after that? Did you get a positive answer?

[r] And after that I did get a positive decision.

[i] And did you have to wait a lot of time between …?

Yes, about 2 years.

[i] 2 years, that is not possible. I can’t… For me it is very difficult.

[r] My asylum procedure took a total of 3 years. After 3 years I do have … I could legally stay here.

[i] So 3 years that you weren’t sure if you could stay here or if you had to leave.

[r] Yes, for three years I was not sure.

[i] And how is the life of someone who is not sure if he can stay? What were your feelings during these three years? Maybe it was very difficult. You couldn’t start your life back…. Building up. Because you didn’t know…

[r] The problem was especially that if you are negative… Then you can’t start thinking about the rest of your life, your future. So you can’t make a good plan for your life. To study or to find work or I don’t know, other things, so you can’t do that.


[r] And most of all a lot of stress indeed.

[i] And what have you done during these three years here in Belgium.

Yes, studied Dutch, civic integration studies – lessons done, …. Integration …. I took civic integration lessons.  So these are lessons given via the city of Antwerp… to all persons integrating and all foreigners and all refugees. And I followed that and that was also 1 month and after that 1 month I did follow a training course via the VDAB as a salesman in second-language education. And then I worked at the Delhaize for three to four months. And 1 month I worked as an intern and after that I got a contract.

[i] And was it a good experience?

[r] It was a very good experience. That was my first job.

[i] And in which Delhaize ?

[r] On the Herentalsebaan.  In that Delhaize I worked for about 3 months.

[i] And where did you live at that moment ?

[r] In the asylum centre of Broechem.

Ah yes, still in the shelter?

[r] Yes, I was already in the asylum centre in Broechem.

[i] And after the asylum centre, where did you move to? To Antwerp immediately or ?

[r] Yes, I immediately came to live here.

[i] Here with ……….

[i] Okay, so after the asylum centre you came straight to Antwerp?

Yes, after the asylum centre I went straight to Berchem … … came to live with my foster parents and since then I still live here.

[i] And…. Where did you find your foster parents? Here in Antwerp or when you were still in the asylum centre?

[r] I was in the centre then and my mother who worked at … Everyone reads” and she was looking for someone who could talk to Pashtu and read to children in the Pashtu. But I had another friend. He was also an Afghan. And we were both in the center and he wanted…. He had been given this assignment by Atlas and he had to speak to Eva, Allé, with my foster mother, but he couldn’t speak Dutch at all. So I went with him as an interpreter and because of that we got to know each other and so on and that’s how I came here.

[i] And for how long? Maybe more than 2 years ?

[r] Yes, I have been living here for more than 2 years.

[i] And how do you feel?

[r] I feel at home, have a new family here, I have a new life here. So … I feel completely happy. I feel good here.

[i] That’s a very nice story. And you live with people from Belgium … Did that perhaps help a lot with the adaptation here in the city? With the language, with the culture or not?

[r] Certainly yes, because culture is one of the most important … Because we have a different culture, here it is totally different. And culture can only be learned by people, so if you don’t have friends or family from here or just friends … who are Belgian or who were born here, you can’t learn culture. So that was really a good thing for me….  erm……….  How can I say that? A good help? That was a good help for me. And that’s how I learned culture and language and got to know people.

[i] And what do you three like to do? E.g. What do you like to do with your family here? For example, a weekend?

[r] For example, if all three of us are free, we go for a walk outside. Nice things, we went to museum, We go on a trip for example and we mainly do …. A lot of things we do together and they like that too and so do I.

[i] Yes, that’s important. And was there something that wasn’t easy to… to live in a new culture? What was the hardest part for you?

[r] For me, it was… the hardest part was …… In order to teach new people and because of that I have learned in those last three years how it works here and there is a lot of difference between us and here. And culture and language and other things like that.  That’s what happens when you buy something in a shop, then you also use … other ways, so not like with us. When we go shopping and then you buy something and then they say 50 rupees and you end up paying 30 rupees. But here’s everything in …  so you buy something and you pay directly via bank contact cash or I don’t know. So, yes…. Those are things I have learned here.

[i] And do you know other people from Afghanistan here in Antwerp or not?

[r] I know a few people, I know a lot of people in general … But what I have contact with are only a few people, maybe 5 or 7 something like that. And those are my friends, I have real contact with them.

[i] And do you also have contact with your family in Afghanistan or not?

[r] I do have contact with my family in Afghanistan, per month or per … I call once every 2 months.

[i] And your family is now reassured that you are doing well here, I guess?

Yes, I think so. They are now reassured. Now they know that I am happy here and that I am safe here.

[i] And do you feel good in Antwerp?

[r] Yes, I think Antwerp is a beautiful city.

[i] And what do you like to do here in Antwerp ?  What do you like to do? For example: I love cycling.

[r] I don’t like to cycle. Hahahaha. I really don’t like to cycle. But the best thing about Antwerp is that there are many museums and many beautiful places to go and the city is …

[i] What is your favourite place, your favourite place in Antwerp?

[r] My favourite place in Antwerp. I especially love the city centre because I … I am a city walker. If I start walking then … I just walk in the streets where I’ve never been before. I like that and I do it everywhere. When I’m alone I walk a lot in the city.

[i] What are you doing here? Are you still studying? Are you already working?

[r] I’m already working and I’m studying ICT.  I’m studying.

[i] And where?

[r] At Encora… in Berchem

So you want to work as an IT guy?

Yes! I’m studying IT.

[i] And how long does this training take?

[r] It takes … These are courses of 1 year but after that you have to … do an internship as well … so that will take 1.5 years and then you can start working.

[i] And is it all day or not?

[r] That’s 4 days a week. From the beginning. Four days a week. Three full days and a half day. So 3.5 days.

[i] And your Dutch is super good. Where did you study Dutch?

[r] I mainly studied Dutch here. Now I live here. With my parents I always speak Dutch so that’s why I now speak a little better Dutch than before.


[r] Thank you very much!

[i] And what are your plans for the future? For the next year? What would you like to do?

[r] I am currently studying so I would like to finish my studies. And I would like to work as an It-er. That is my plan.

[i] And where, for example? Where would you like to work?

[r] I don’t know.

[i] No? Not yet?

[r] No, not yet.

[i] If you still want to work on your… your homeland thinks. What do you think about?  What do you miss most about your homeland?

[r] Now I don’t miss it anymore, do I? In the beginning, but not anymore. I used to miss except for my family members. All right, I would…. In the beginning I really missed that very much, but not so much anymore.

And here, for example, if you want to eat Afghan … Don’t you have any appetite now and then or not?

[r] Yes, occasionally I cook myself also here when I …

Do you cook yourself?

[r] I also cook very little myself. But I can do that. And here is also an Afghan restaurant and then we go there together.

[i] And do you listen to Afghan music?

Yes, I listen a lot to Afghan music. But also Belgian music or English music. I like different kinds of music.

Okay, [name] , Thank you very much for your story.

[r] Thank you very much ! You’re welcome.