Afghan migrant hopes to complete father's flight from war
Sep. 02, 2015
MORIA, Greece (AP) — Three decades after his father fled war in Afghanistan to seek safety in Iran, Abdullah Bakhshi is now on the next leg of his family's long journey to a better life, and part of the largest tide of migrants since World War II.
The flood of refugees and migrants making their way to Europe by perilous sea voyage or halting overland trek largely springs from the Syrian civil war, but it also includes people fleeing much older conflicts, and lifelong refugees like Bakhshi who are traveling from one refuge to another.
Bakhshi, 24, arrived in Greece late last month after traveling across the mountainous Iran-Turkey border. He hopes to eventually make his way to Germany, and to one day bring his family there to join him.
His father, Mohammad Bakhshi, fled from Afghanistan's Badakhshan province in the 1980s at the height of the bloody Soviet intervention. He walked for 27 days to reach Peshawar, in neighboring Pakistan. "We would go on foot during the night and hide during the day, because helicopters might have targeted us," he said. "Our lives were in danger."
He eventually made his way to Iran, home to nearly 2 million Afghan refugees. He and his wife had six children, but none of them have citizenship and work opportunities are limited.
"I worked for 8, 10 to 12 hours a day, and my wife and little girls wove rugs, and this way we paid for their education so that they could become useful people and have a bright future," the 55-year-old said at an interview in his home in Kashan, in central Iran.
Abdullah and two of his sisters graduated from university, and the two women are working on master's degrees. But without citizenship, they can do little more than the odd jobs and manual labor that have sustained the family until now. And as members of Afghanistan's Shiite Hazara minority, they fear being targeted by Sunni extremists if they return home.
So last month Abdullah embarked on a new voyage, not unlike the one his father made a generation ago.
"My mom said don't cry, it is not good to cry when somebody is going on a journey," Abdullah's sister Mahboobeh said.
"Abdullah might be hurt and he might change his mind in the middle of the way and return home, or other things might happen. I can't describe how distressed I was."
A few days later, their brother Nasrullah announced that he would leave university and follow Abdullah to Europe. But he only made it as far as Turkey, where he was detained.
Mohammad, who knows the perils of migration firsthand, fears for both of them.
"(My sons) were forced to go on such a dangerous journey and risk being drowned in the sea. Human smugglers in the mountainous areas near the Iran-Turkey border get their money to take them across the border. If they are taken by bandits or thieves in the border area they will ask them for money and otherwise say 'We'll not let you go.'"
Abdullah, now on the Greek island of Lesbos, has been trying to reassure his family.
"They call me every day and they say to me that they miss me. And I say I miss you. But there's no way to see them. I can just telephone them and hear their sound," he says in broken English.
"My wish is my family come near me in Germany," he said. "I think Germany is best."
Back in Iran, his mother hopes to see him again, wherever they all end up.
"I wish we will reunite somewhere with my kids, daughters, somewhere as a family," Sakineh Ataei said. "Somewhere that we have a peaceful life and a house where we can live peacefully."
Associated Press writer Joseph Krauss in Cairo contributed to this report.