Thousands of Afghans put their lives in the hands of criminal gangs every day to get to Europe. Traffickers use empty promises to lure refugees who hope to start a new life in paradise. But many end up disappointed.
Haji Qasem Mohammadi’s family has everything a family needs. A good income, a beautiful house and a happy family. But all this can’t console Mohammadi. One day he woke up and his beloved son was gone.
"He just left without our permission," the worried father says. Mohammadi’s eyes look into the distance. He furrows his brow. About two months ago, his 16-year-old son, Hussain, traveled to neighboring Iran.
He told his parents he would go there on vacation, but Hussain hasn’t come back since. "We are worried about our son," says Mohammadi. "Every night I wake up and think about him. My nerves are strained to the utmost. A smuggler has promised him the moon and the stars and he fell for it," he says.
The trafficker guaranteed security, a high income, luxury and parties - just a few miles away from Hussain, if he was willing to pay. The journey wouldn’t be long and he would be accepted immediately, the smugglers told him.
Hussain paid thousands of euros, went to Turkey, then Greece and finally passed the Balkan states to reach Germany. It’s the most common route for refugees, who want to go to Germany.
Highly professional international smuggler groups are using this route for their own profits, according to the German Intelligence Service (BND). The German federal police raided several houses in 24 cities across the European country and arrested seven suspects in a bid to contain smuggling activities.
The smugglers are said to have been providing fake documents and plane tickets to refugees in exchange for up to 10,000 euros ($10,800) per person. They often lie to their clients and make false promises.
In Afghanistan, many believe German Chancellor Angela Merkel has assured German citizenship to incoming Afghans. There are even rumors in Kabul that Germany has promised to take in 800,000 Afghans.
It is therefore no surprise that many Afghans accept the dangers of a long, perilous journey to get to Germany. A worsening security situation and poor economic prospects in the South Asian country are so-called "push factors" for people to leave Afghanistan, says BND president Gerhard Schindler.
Compared to many other families in the city of Herat, in western Afghanistan, Mohammadi’s family of nine has a relatively decent life. Despite this, one of Mohammadi's daughters - together with her husband - also recently left the country. Her departure has only increased the pain the son had left behind.
"Initially, I did not want to speak to Hussain," the bereaved father told DW. But one day, when Hussain called, the mother insisted that they talk. "So I asked him: 'Now that you are in Germany. What do you think?'"
"And Hussain said he was regretting his decision," said Mohammadi.
The promises the smugglers made haven't come true. Hussain now lives in an asylum center with many other refugees, and he hopes that he will be allowed to stay in the country.
Human smuggling from Afghanistan has been booming in recent months. Many Afghans are draining their savings and selling their belongings and land to pay for the uncertain and insecure journey.
People who are able to afford can buy visas to Turkey. And from there, the journey continues. Thousands of Afghans are leaving their country on a daily basis.
'No place for us' in Germany
Haji Qasem Mohammadi says he now wants to join his son in Germany, as the longing for him has become too much to bear. "I called my son and told him of my plan," recounts Mohammadi. "But Hussain told me that even if they offered to fly me directly to Germany in an airplane, I shouldn't do it. In Germany, there is simply no place for us," said Mohammadi.
Hussain is not happy with his current situation in Germany. On the telephone, he tells his parents that he is very homesick. He wants to complete his schooling and earn some money so that he could return to Afghanistan. Hussain, like many other young people, had pictured a completely different life in Germany.
Over 3,000 people have so far drowned or disappeared this year while traveling on boats from Turkey to Greece, according to the UN
More than 800,000 migrants and refugees have made the difficult journey to Europe this year in order to seek asylum. Many of them come from Syria or Afghanistan. According to reports from the UN, over 3,000 people have drowned or disappeared traveling on boats from Turkey to Greece.
Mohebullah Rezai from Kabul also lost his wife and a daughter during the trip. They wanted to travel from Turkey to Germany together with his brother-in-law and his wife and children. Rezai, however, now regrets this decision.
"No Afghan should take this risky journey," says Rezai. "We were told that there was no danger and it would be very easy. The smugglers took all of the cash. From then on, all we could do was wait. First, they left us waiting for hours in the woods and afterwards, all eight of us had to sleep in a small room. We were very tired when we were finally picked up."
The wooden boat was already overcrowded when Rezai and his family were loaded on board. A Syrian captain steered the rickety vessel on the sea. At one point, they had to turn around because they had gotten lost. Then the accident happened. The boat broke apart under the weight of the passengers and dozens of people lost their lives.
Germany raises awareness
Campaigns like 'Afghanistan Needs You' attempt to stop the young and educated from leaving the country
To avoid further disasters and disappointments, the German embassy in Kabul launched a campaign a few weeks ago to inform Afghans about asylum rights and the procedures in Germany. Over the next few days, posters are to be hung all over the country to make the dangers clear and stop refugees from starting the journey.
"Our message is that Afghans should stay," Jakob von Wagner, a spokesman for the German Embassy in Kabul told DW. "This country needs them and belongs to them. Afghanistan needs young people who will put their energy into rebuilding."
What Germany does not need, according to Wagner, are "economic refugees" who lack professional skills.
"Europe is merely a dream and an illusion," says Rezai sadly. "If you ask the smugglers, they say that no one has drowned and the images on the television are from long ago. They are trying to convince people that no danger exists," recalls the widower, in a trembling voice.
"But now we see for ourselves that something like that happens every night. Every night, people die trying to reach Europe."