I recently read an incredible book, which tells the story of how 12 year old Gulwali Passarlay left his family and home life in Afghanistan to travel to Europe for a better life.
A heart wrenching book which I found hard to put down, it has really opened my eyes to what migrants really go through and the troubles they encounter along the way. Gulwali’s mother had no choice but to send him and his brother out of the country when the Taliban took over, killing his father and grandfather and forcing people to join as fighters. She wanted a better life for her children and paid a large amount of $8000 to get Gulwali to Europe.
Neither Gulwali nor his mother knew that the journey would take 12 months, 12 500 miles, by 6 different modes of transport including many by foot – sometimes in the snow, a horse, boats and vans. He crossed through 8 countries, some more than once and spent time in prisons and holding cells for migrants in which they were treated like animals. He met many friends along the way but also lost many too, often being separated when caught. The saddest part for me is that he was meant to be travelling with his brother as his mother has sent them off together ,but they were separated right in the beginning. So not only was he suffering physically by going through days of interrogation, hours of walking and starvation , he was worried sick about his brother and constantly thinking about life back home as there was no way to contact anyone.
He suffered from terrible nightmares, as well as stomach problems from malnutrition and ended up having to go to hospital in Calais after hiding in a truck headed for the UK, which was full of chemical powder that badly burnt his face. He sadly tried to commit suicide as he often felt death was better than the struggles he was facing. Remember not only was he 12 but he also could not speak English and the language barrier when arriving in Europe was very isolating.
In the book we get a detailed account of what life is like living in Calais in the “Jungle” which sounds like a terrifying place for these poor people who have just been through hell trying to get to Europe, only to be dehumanized and taunted constantly by the police. Thank goodness for the kind and wonderful volunteers who are there trying to help. We learn after numerous attempts to get to the UK, how he managed to do it and how unfortunately life was not as great as he thought it would be when he finally made it. Having to spend a year trying to prove his age (by now he was 14) , he eventually managed to prove he wasn’t 19 but was a minor and was placed with a foster family.
To learn about Gulwali’s story and how he made it to the UK please check out his book The Lightless Sky-An Afghan Refugee Boy’s Journey of Escape to a New Life , or click here to see his blog.
He is set to graduate from University of Manchester with a degree in Politics and is an active member in many prestigious aid and youth groups. He was also invited to carry the Olympic torch in 2012!
Gulwali is a truly inspirational person and I am so glad I came across his book. I have learnt so much and my eyes have been opened to the world of migrant smuggling – which according to his book is around a $7 billion global industry.
One of my previous posts was about a volunteer Amber who documented what it was like working in Lesvos with the refugees- “Start where you are, use what you have, do what you can”
One of Amber’s first shifts was rescuing people from a capsized boat, which is how Gulwali nearly died when arriving in Greece. Gulwali describes his experience with a volunteer as thinking she was an “angel”, providing food, warm clothes and necessities.
I believe we are all on this earth to help each other. It was not Gulwali’s fault or anyone else forced to flee their home, that their country is being torn to shreds! For those out there who don’t want to see immigrants in their country you have to understand that leaving their own country is a last resort, these people just want to find work and ways to send money home to loved ones. Many of them have dreams of studying and just as Gulwali was helped by so many and is paying it forward by the work he now does, if we could learn to be kind and welcoming to each other we could encourage more people to study to be nurses, doctors, social workers etc and they too can pay it forward. Let us all look at the bigger picture, and try think about what we would do in their situation.
This is something I feel so passionately about as I think everyone deserves a chance in life, and these people are risking their lives every day to get to a better life!
A few facts taken from the book directly – “ At the time of writing-August 2015- over 2,000 men, women and children are known to have drowned in the Mediterranean this year alone”
“By the end of 2014, 59.5 million men , women and children had been forcibly displaced by persecution, conflict, generalized violence or human rights violations.”
“In 2014, there were 23,100 asylum applications made in the twenty-eight European member states by an accompanied minors (defined as persons under the age of eighteen who enter without an adult, be it a parent or guardian”
“The International Organization for Migration (IOM) estimates that more than 1,011,700 migrants arrived by sea in 2015, and almost 34,900 by land.This compares with 280,000 arrivals by land and sea for the whole of 2014. The figures do not include those who got in undetected.”
According to the BBC “135,711 people reached Europe by sea since the start of 2016.”
I hope we can all have a bit more empathy and understanding, and show more kindness and love towards one another, as we are all in this together.