Phil Johnson, Ph.D.
March 1, 2017
I have known Mr. Hami for several years – he was one of my students when I taught business and leadership courses in Afghanistan in 2014-2016. He didn’t finish his course of study – instead he opted for freedom and the life and status of a refugee in Europe.
Today I had an opportunity to catch up with Zakaraia Hami in Frankfurt, Germany – not far from where he lives as a refugee in government-provided housing. I wanted to hear his story and ask him what his life has been like, far from home, in a new place and square in the middle of the largest refugees crisis since World War II. Here is our conversation.
Please describe your journey from Afghanistan to Germany – the risks, expense, who knew and who helped you?
I say I “decided” to leave – but the truth is, I was “forced” to leave on November 21, 2015. I was warned through rumors that I would be targeted by the Taliban for my work with Tolo News – a news organization that wasn’t particularly popular with the Taliban. And sure enough, in January of 2016, just 2 months after I left, our Tolo News employment transportation vehicle was attacked by the Taliban and six of my coworkers were killed and many more were wounded. Those friends and colleagues had stayed in Afghanistan. I was two months ahead towards a new and unknown world and hopefully heading towards my freedom and a reasonable sense of safety.
From Kabul, I was taken to Mashhad, Iran. The visa for Iran took 20 days to obtain and cost me $2000. From Iran – I headed to Turkey. I had no legal documents – but two Kurdish guides came and and took me and others by truck from Iran to the border of Turkey where we spent two more days on the Iranian side of the border.
Finally we crossed the border into Turkey and stayed two more days in a border town. Then two new Kurdish smugglers got us tickets to Istanbul – by bus. It took 24 hours to get to Istanbul. When we arrived, we were kept for 8 days in an apartment – in a “hiding place.” The total cost to the smugglers was $18,000
After the 8 days in the hiding place in Istanbul, the smugglers decided to take us to Izmir in a wagon – with at least 40 of us packed into that wagon. It’s funny how many hours you can spend with people in incredibly small spaces, with no privacy, and with very little conversation. You all know what your goal is – but no one speaks of it. You all have your own dreams but you’re afraid to say them out loud.
From Izmir – (on the coast of Turkey) we made our own boat by ourselves and 60 of us set sail for the two-hour voyage to the Greek Islands. The seas were rough and then we realized we were going in the wrong direction. A fisherman spotted us and told us that we needed to head towards a different island. Our two-hour journey turned into four.
When we finally arrived in Greece, there were people who met us, who were kind and welcoming. They called the UN and after 20 minutes, UN members came and took us to their base. We received an immigration paper from Greece – it was valid for 2 days and we were to go directly to Athens. (Another twelve hours on a ship.)
From Athens, is was just one transfer after another. A bus from Athens to Macedonia, where we passed the night and then took another very old train to Serbia. Here we received another paper – a temporary permit – and boarded another bus to Croatia and then a train to Slovenia. Finally we took a train to Austria where the Austrian police took us to the Germany police where we got registered with the Germans and got a ticket to the train to Düsseldorf.
Now we were free to go anywhere. Until this time, the UN people/security were with us and we were not allowed to go anywhere else. Now in Düsseldorf, I was free, but didn’t know where to go. I spoke to a Skype friend who told me to get a ticket to Frankfurt and then to Giessen where I registered as an asylum seeker. After one night, the government issued me an ID card, and I took the bus to Darmstadt – in state of Hesse. Here I was left in a Red Cross camp for 4 months where they did medical checks. Then they moved us to a school which was being used as a refugee camp. The Red Cross passed our documents to the State and the state gave us a bank ID and opened an account for us. Just recently we moved to a new shelter – I think it was a former US army base.
What was the reason for your decision to leave home?
First of all, I left because of the security threat – especially as it related to my job with the media. Secondly, I came to Germany because we had all heard that there were more opportunities for refugees here than other countries.
How did your family feel about you leaving Afghanistan?
My family is very scared for me – they had a horrible feeling that I might not make it. When I left, I told only my mother and one of my brothers. I told no one else I just suddenly disappeared.
What has Germany done for you and other refugees – what do they provide?
The Germany government has provided us with housing, food, medical care, and €130 per month. Recently we were moved to a new place and we now received €350 per month, but no food – we have to sort that out ourselves.
What’s the next step in the process? Could you be rejected and sent home?
I am just waiting for the result of my interviews. I have no idea when I will hear about my case and what the result will be. And I can’t work a regular job – I could work small task jobs, part time- like in a restaurant. But that’s all.
Strangely, the German government is not providing language courses for Afghan refugees. They do provide this for Iranians, Iraqis, Syrians and Nigerians but not for Afghans. I suppose that somehow they feel we Afghans are not a threat. But the integration courses and language training would be helpful.
What is the rational for your immigration? (Economic, political, religious minority?)
Primarily I left Afghanistan because of security concerns – so I am seeking political asylum.
What is your response to the chaos and violence Germany and other parts of Europe have endured because of the large influx of immigration? It is reported that there were 200,000 crimes committed by refugees last year – and that does not include the thousands of sexual assaults committed in Cologne.
Then you have other attacks in Paris, Brussels, Germany, Turkey, Berlin and unrest in Sweden. Some say that Germany is in a dangerous state of denial about its immigration problem. What do you think?
There are problems and there is danger. When I hear about all the rubbish that refugees are doing, I ask myself, “Why should we disrespect Germany who is trying to help us?” When I heard about these tragedies – and then saw the faces of those who had helped us – I felt horrible. I felt helpless – saying sorry would not be enough. Especially when some refugees are doing these things in the name of Islam.
I asked myself why Germany had open her borders without checking who these people were.
Somehow I understand the idea of Donald Trump – trying to slow immigration and check backgrounds from some countries. Nations should be more strict about where the people are coming from.
As I see more of this violence happening, I have started to resent the refugees – I even dislike being viewed as one of them. Wow, that statement is not going to make me popular with the refugee community! Trust me, it’s not all of them – or even most of them. But there is a problem. I see more refugees on the streets than Germans these days.
What is your future expectation for your life in Germany? Will you stay? Learn German? Become a part of German society? Will you consider yourself German?
I am learning German on my own (I mentioned that this isn’t being offered to Afghans). I go out with my German friends. I feel it’s important to become integrated into this society – to learn a profession, to get on-the-job-training or to enter a university. I want to make a life for myself here – or somewhere like here.
What have you appreciated most about your new life?
Enjoying freedom – the honesty of these people. And the volunteer aspect – people are so happy to help others – for nothing.
What do you want other immigrants to know and understand?
It’s OK to know your own culture and to value your own culture – but you must now understand and respect the culture of the place where you are now living. Become part of it and contribute to your new society.