Hamed’s journey: 11 days of uncertainty, fear and regret
One 15-year-old journey's to Iran and back, in search of a better life
HERAT, AFGHANISTAN - His family had struggled with poverty, unemployment and sickness for years. But the moment 15-year-old Hamed decided he had to leave his village near Herat for Iran, was when there was no money left to buy school stationery for his two brothers and two sisters. He had to help them get an education.
“I would have loved to stay in school, but I couldn’t. Someone had to earn money for my family. So, I dropped out of Grade 8.”
Hamed tried working in baking and tailoring businesses, but he was let go. Afghanistan could offer him nothing. It was February 2022.
His family knew about his plans to leave for Iran and supported him because they were so desperate. With the help of a relative already in Iran, they agreed to pay 20,000 AFN (nearly US$ 300) to cover the cost of the journey.
One night at 8pm with a smuggler by his side, he left his village. The smuggler took him and some other boys deep into the mountains near the border with Iran. They stayed in a freezing cold cave for three long days and nights. During the day, the boys gathered wood so that they could light a fire by night. Hamed felt very scared that thieves would catch him and harm him or try to extort money from his family.
On the fourth day, the smuggler took them into Iran. Immediately, they were caught by the Iranian police who took them to a detention center.
In the course of the next few days, Hamed moved from detention center to detention center. It was a harrowing experience. With barely enough food to eat, Hamed remembers being painfully hungry – but too scared to speak up to ask for more from the guards.
Once he was deported to Afghanistan, UNICEF and War Child UK met Hamed and other children like him at the border.
This is the start of a European Union (EU)-funded reunification programme for children who are unaccompanied and separated. All the children were quickly registered and screened. Then, they enjoyed a hot meal of meat and rice. It was the first time since leaving his family home that Hamed felt safe. With that feeling came a strong sense of gratitude.
He was then taken to Herat, to the EU-funded Gozargah Transit Centre where he was given the opportunity for a hot shower, new clothes and shoes, another hot meal, a bed in a warm dormitory, and the chance to play with the other boys. As well as a grass pitch for football, there were swings and foosball tables. The bright surroundings of the centre were as welcoming as they were uplifting. With flowers and trees and bright paintings on the wall, friendly staff, and counsellors on hand, it’s a place where children can be children. The sense of relief in the centre was palpable.
Once he was escorted back to his family home by a social worker, and his family received counselling, as part of the reunification programme, he was given 25,000 AFN (around US$ 280.00) to start a business. Hamed was overjoyed to receive this money and bought a beading machine so he could earn a living by decorating and designing clothing.
Today, working from home, he earns around 5-6,000 AFN per month. He feels very happy that he can help his family practically. He never wants to return to Iran.
“If I earn more money, I’ll buy another beading machine and expand my business,” Hamed tells us.
When we asked if he had advice for other boys who may be contemplating running away to neighbouring countries, he said, “Don’t go! It’s very dangerous. It is like life and death. I would say you have a 90 per cent chance of dying. My relative died doing the same journey.”
Now that he can support his family financially, next March, Hamed plans to return to school and graduate. He is happy that, thanks to his business, he and his siblings will have all the stationery and books they need to study well and succeed in life.