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Bags and Belongings

Bags and Belongings: Robbed of All I Had – A Warm Change of Clothes

As part of our “Bags and Belongings” series, 11-year-old Abuzar describes what he brought with him and what he left behind when he started his dangerous voyage, by himself, from Afghanistan to Serbia, battling police and thieves along the way.

Written by Preethi Nallu Published on Read time Approx. 3 minutes
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Abuzar traveled from Afghanistan to Serbia on his own at the age of 11. Preethi Nallu

For our “Bags and Belongings” series, Refugees Deeply earlier this year asked Syrians scattered around the globe what they packed in their bags and what they left behind when they fled. In this next installment of the series, we spoke to people displaced from other troubled parts of the globe – from Myanmar to Gambia – about their prized possessions and how the meaning of home has changed for them since they fled.

In this interview, 11-year-old Abuzar from Afghanistan spoke with Preethi Nallu in an abandoned barracks in Belgrade, Serbia, where hundreds of migrants – including lone children like Abuzar – were sheltering in freezing conditions last winter. They were waiting to “play the game” – this is a codeword that smugglers and refugees use when referring to clandestine border crossings between the Balkan countries. The makeshift shelter was demolished by authorities last month. Abuzar was last seen crossing the Serbia-Croatia border trying to get to Sweden, where he hoped to apply for asylum.

Abuzar was among the 100,000 children to travel alone along the Balkan route since 2015. (Preethi Nallu)

I am Abuzar and I came from Afghanistan. From Afghanistan I went to Iran, from Iran I escaped the police and reached Turkey, then I went to Bulgaria and from there I ended up in Serbia.

When we were in the Bulgarian forests along the border where the smuggler brought us, there were policemen with their dogs. We heard their voices from where we were sleeping. The smuggler had a wooden stick in his hand. He told us not to move and threatened to beat us and leave us behind if we did not do as he said. He left two people from our group in the forest.

He kept telling us that the road was open. He said that four of five “games” [attempts to cross] were successful and they reached Austria.

There is just one thing available here – every day at 1 p.m. some volunteers come with food and everyone lines up and eats it. I am just waiting to reach Sweden and then I will go see my family. I will bring them to Sweden then.

Smoke – there is smoke everywhere in the barracks where I am staying because of the fire. It gets very cold at night. You have to cover yourself with three or four blankets. I have to often find food for myself.

Since I was 4 years old I have been away from home. I had to flee to Pakistan with my family because of war. Things were fine in Pakistan. We had freedom. I used to go to school. I had friends there and we played games like cricket.

My entire family – my mother, father, brother – are in Afghanistan. I am the oldest one in the family, so I will go forward and bring them once I receive asylum.

I had warm trousers, a change of shoes, a phone and some cash on me, and the contact number of the smugglers. The police took away everything I had at the Bulgarian border, including my jacket and warm clothes. They robbed me.

I came all the way here from Afghanistan. How can I go back? I have been through a lot – many hardships and troubles. I escaped the police and the thieves and faced too many difficulties to just return home now. This is the last border. After I cross it, there will be no more problems. I want to get to Sweden, start school and then bring the rest of my family. But of course I would rather be with them than be here on my own.

This story is featured in the “Shadow to Light” installation at San Francisco Design Week through a partnership between Airbnb Design and News Deeply.

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