”You people in the Balkans are not aware how lucky you are for being born here. Whatever the problems you’ve had – at least you are free. Human rights and human dignity have to be respected here”, says a 17-year old Ali, an unaccompanie boy who fled Afghanistan and unexpectedly remained in Serbia three years ago. He admits that he did not even know where Serbia is, nor had any information about its laws, culture, customs, way of life until he left his home country … Serbia was but one of the countries he was to transit on his way to freedom.
Talibans barged into the shop he worked in back in Afghanistan every day. They were aggressive, hurled insults at him and exploited his work. If he refused to ”serve” them, they would threaten him with violence and death. Still, the worst for him was that his own family was not supportive of him even in these circumstances.
”I had enromous problems with my family, most of all with my brothers who are very conservative and very, very religious. They could not accept the fact that my thinking was different. I am religious, but do not want to allow any religion rule my life”, explains Ali the additional reasons he left his homeland for and embarked on a dangerous and long journey alone. Like all other teenagers, he was additionally disheartened because his family did not want to accept the girl he was in love with on no account. And this only because she did not wear a hijab.
”Sadly, I have no contact with my family except with my mom and a baby brother occassionally. It is very sad for one to be rejected by one’s family”, he says ruefully.
Although readily engaging in conversation and smiling most of the time, this sadness is evident in his look.
”I was a guardian to another child accommodated in the asylum center in Krnjača. But, I remembered Ali’s dark, intense eyes. It always seemed as though he had just been crying and I regularly asked him whether he was all right. The center for social welfare had appointed a colleague to him at that time – Đorđe, who stopped working since“, Nataša, Ali’s guardian explains saying she was particularly happy that the boy chose her to be his next guardian and that the center for social welfare passed the same decision.
”Serbia is my second home, I have my second family here. Đorđe was like a father to me, and I think of Nataša as my mother”, says Ali with a smile, but stresses that he found the first months in Serbia incredibly trying. His most traumatic experiences though, are from the journey through Turkey and Bulgaria.
”I was afraid all of the time while walking through Bulgaria, because they could recongnise me as a refugee by my darker skin colour”, Ali remembers and says with agitation that the Bulgarian police ”hunted them like dogs”. Those they manage to catch were brutally beaten and kept in inhuman conditions. Luckily, Ali escaped that destiny but the experiences of those he travelled with still haunt him.
Arrival in Serbia represented a turning point – he was disappointed at first because he was not managing to cross into the EU. However, as the time passed, the feeling of safety prevailed as he had found peace and met the staff from various organisations who helped him start a new life in a safe environment. But Ali found the first encounter with a new culture a challenging life experience.
”I knew nothing about the culture, I did not know anyone, did not speak English or Serbian… It was impossible for me to communicate. In the meantime, I have learned the culture, met people, I even have friends. The Serbs are good people.“ Ali assers.
From a boy who spoke only Farsi – his mother tongue, Ali grew into a boy fluent in Pashto, Turkish and English. He understands Urdu perfectly, and is shy to speak German and Serbian. Thanks to his language and social skills, he now works as an interpreter at creative workshops organised by the Center for Crisis Policy and Responose (CRPC). He also attends a course for a hairdresser.
”Nataša, my guardian, enrolled me into school. I like hairdressing and believe I will be good at it. But I’ve been thinking of late to enrol into secondary medical school and help people as a nurse one day. I am confident and very tenacious. I do believe I will achieve all this, because if one wants something hard enough, one cannot give up”, says Ali adding that he is particularly proud of a certificate for peer educators he was awarded having finished the UNHCR-supported training implemented by Center for Research and Society Development IDEAS, Center for Crisis Policy and Response (CRPC) and the Danish Refugee Council (DRC).
”I try to convey my knowledge about gender norms, LGBT, discrimination and risks of trafficking to my peers in Krnjača. Though they sometimes refuse to listen to me, I am sure the knowledge will serve them good if and when they leave Serbia”, the 17-year old Ali believes, stressing that protection of human rights of LGBT persons are his favourite topic because the people of different sexual orientation and gender identity are utterly stigmatized in his home country and even their life is at risk.
Wishing to build his future in Serbia, Ali applied for asylum. Regretfully, he was rejected twice with an explanation that the evidence for him being in need of asylum are not sufficient. His case is now at the Constitutional Court. Ali’s destiny will be uncertain until the decision of this Court.
”I sincerely hope for a fast and positive decision of the Constitutional Court. Ali deserves a chance to lead a peaceful life in dignity. And Serbia has an opportunity to receive and keep the boy that has proved his human qualities over and again. Though he has his own problems, he tries to help others every day”, notes Ali’s guardian and cites the situations when the boy gave his hospitalised friend his own mobile phone as he needed it more, when he babysat children in the camp because their mothers were busy or ill, when he interpreted to others who did not understand the words of their collocutors…
Ali fears but is hopeful that he will receive a positive decision of the Constitutional Court and dreams of the moment when he will be granted asylum and treat his closest friends andhis guardian with the best baklavas in Belgrade.
*The name was changed to protect the identity of the child