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Asia

Afghan refugee in Greece: 'We're living in a cage'

Every year, tens of thousands of refugees from Afghanistan come to Europe illegally. But very few of them manage to start a new life in the continent. Some die on the run, while others get stranded.

Abdullah left the restive Afghan province of Daikundi 10 years ago. First, his family moved to Iran to flee an armed conflict. But they remained unsettled there, and faced violent harassment almost daily.

Later, they fled to Turkey illegally, where they contacted the United Nations refugee organization and sought asylum in a European country. They waited for a response for three years, in vain. In Turkey, life was more difficult than in Iran. But during his stay in the country, Abdullah illegally worked on construction sites and managed to save some money for the onward journey to Europe.

'Stormy ride' over the Mediterranean

Abdullah, his family and a group of foreign refugees took the help from a smuggler to move to Greece. The traffickers took $1,300 per person for the trip. But soon the journey turned into a nightmare.

"We were 25 people in the boat. It was a stormy night," Abdullah told DW. "As soon as the traffickers put us in the boat, he assured us that we would soon arrive in Europe. At one point during our journey, the boat's engine fell into the sea. We almost drowned," he added.

The refugees, including eight women and the same number of children, barely managed to survive. They were rescued by the Greek authorities.

The police issued documents to Abdullah and other refugees for a one-month stay in Greece where he stayed in a crowded building with other refugees. "We had a woman with us who was eight-months pregnant. We didn't know what we could do for her," said Abdullah.

For Abdullah's family, the situation in Greece was unbearable. His mother was old, his sister was sick, and the pregnant woman in the refugee community was unwell. Rather quickly, they found another smuggler who promised to take them by car to Germany.

Fatal accident

Only Hamid, Abdullah's 24-year-old brother, was able to take this ride to Germany given that the facilitator had only limited space in his car. The trip cost 1,200 euros. Abdullah's family and other refugees would follow, the smuggler said.

Some days later, Abdullah and his family received the tragic news that some 14 Afghan and Somali refugees had been run over by a train in Macedonia. Hamid was on the same route that night.

Abdullah soon found out that his brother was among the victims. But no one, including the Afghan embassy, could confirm his death.

It was a huge blow to Abdullah. "We wanted to continue our journey, but after the accident, we are at a loss, and I don't even know what I would do with the dead body of my brother should the authorities hand it over to me."

Abdullah says his life in Greece is miserable. He does not speak Greek, and his residence permit is now only valid for one more week. "I cannot go out alone and have to take my wife with me as I can't leave her alone. We are living here like prisoners. We cannot even visit the doctor."

"We are living in a cage. Is there a place for us in this wide world?" asked Abdullah.