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"If I had known what it was really going to be like abroad, and which difficulties I would face upon return, I would have never left."
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Zabihullah is a father of five from Herat, a border town with Iran and a regional trade-hub. As a businessman trading carpets between Iran and Afghanistan, he was able to provide for a comfortable life for his family. However, this all changed when kidnappings of wealthy Afghans or their children increased. “We really led a good life, and I owned land, a house and a car. But this all didn’t matter anymore when I received increasing kidnapping threats on my family, particularly on my eldest son,” explained Zabihullah. Due to the economic downturn and worsening security situation, criminal activities increased in Herat. “I just grew increasingly worried for the safety of myself, my wife and my children. So I decided to leave Afghanistan to take them somewhere safe,” he said. He had spoken to relatives who lived in Europe. “‘Come to Germany’, they said. ‘Here your children will be safe, and they will go to University and become doctors and engineers like our children’,” Zabihullah recalled.

‘Go to Germany,’ he was told by the smuggler he had contacted. ‘As a family, they will easily grant you asylum. You just have to fly to Turkey, and then you go overland to Germany, it will not be too hard.’ And so he believed them. With the looming kidnapping threats on his family on one hand, and the desire to enable his children to study in good universities, he sold everything he owned to afford the USD 115.000 to pay a smuggler to take the family to Germany in 2015.

But unfortunately, life in Germany was not as he imagined. “First of all, my relatives had lied. Their children were not doctors or engineers, but assistant cooks and mechanics. Secondly, the smuggler had lied. It wasn’t that easy to get asylum in Germany, and we were rejected the first time,” Zabihullah recounted. When he learned that his 16-year old son and daughter were not going to be able to enter Universities but were enrolled in 2-year language classes to be followed by apprenticeships, their father didn’t even want to try to appeal. “I didn’t realize that the entry requirements to universities in Germany were that high. But I also didn’t do all of this for my children to become mechanics,” he said. So he applied for IOM’s voluntary return programme. With IOM’s help, upon return to Afghanistan, Zabihullah bought a 20% stock in a mechanic shop where he still works. “When we left Afghanistan, we sold everything and reduced our lives to zero here. And although our lives are nothing compared to what they were before, and I just make enough income to pay for food and rent, IOM at least gave us a small chance at a new start. If I had known what it was really going to be like abroad, and which difficulties I would face upon return, I would have never left.”

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