The Refugees Who Stayed in Greece When Everyone Else Moved West

Having risked their lives, some Afghans, Pakistanis and Syrians decided to remain despite the allure of the rest of Europe

The Refugees Who Stayed in Greece When Everyone Else Moved West
Illustration by Joanna Andreasson for New Lines Magazine

When Morteza Mousavi was 15 years old, a Taliban “recruiter” came calling at his house in eastern Afghanistan. His pitch: He poured boiling water on Morteza’s arm, with a promise of worse if the teen did not join. He also wanted to marry Morteza’s sister. She was 12.

The family fled. Morteza’s father sold his house and possessions to pay a series of traffickers to take him and his five children from Afghanistan to Pakistan, from Pakistan to Iran, from Iran to Turkey and from Turkey to Greece. Along the way, they were towed one by one across a river on an inner tube, rode in suffocating trucks, slept in crowded safe houses, subsisted on watery soups and suffered multiple beatings when they were unable to satisfy the smugglers’ insatiable demands for money.

Morteza was one of five men I met in Greece who journeyed there when they were in their teens. The others were Mohammed, who also left Afghanistan when he was 15; Omer, who left Pakistan when he was 15; and Shahzaib, another Pakistani, who left at age 14. Taleb, from Syria, came earlier, in 2012. Though circumstances in their countries of origin differed, they all left for the same reason: They saw no future for themselves if they stayed. Now, bit by bit, they’re building lives in Greece.

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