A Long Way from Home

Spinghar Hotak, 22, speaks of his journey from Laghman, Afghanistan to Bastad, Sweden.

Spinghar Hotak was still a teen when Taliban militants stormed the Farah provincial courthouse on April 3, 2013. As a translator for US forces, it was Hotak's duty to rush to the scene when his unit were called in to contain the situation.

After clearing the entry with explosives, the terror group had taken civilians and court staff hostage, firing on the surrounding streets. Military units took position in the surrounding buildings, but translator Hotak was not trained as a fighter. Although he had seen many dangers during his work with US troops, he had little experience in direct combat situations.

“We just arrived in the building across the street when my supervisor grabbed me by my body armor,” said Hotak, now 22, as he told his story from the Swedish refugee camp that is now his home. “He dragged me to the ground just as bullets started flying in above us.”

By nightfall, the troops managed to gain control of the building, but little was left. 50 were dead and more than 100 injured.

“They lined up the people and shot them. When we went in we saw the bodies had all been burned,” Hotak recalled.

After a year and a half working as a translator with US and coalition forces in his home country, Hotak became a hunted man. To survive he embarked on a journey that would take him half way around the world and will hopefully end here in Bastad Sweden, where he awaits a decision on his application for political asylum.

The camp is full of young men like Hotak, families and couples, all hoping for a better life in the security and prosperity of Europe. Most are Syrian. Many others are from central Africa. A few are Iraqi or Afghan like Hotak. All are waiting, some for months, some for more than a year, for a decision from the Swedish government as to whether or not they can stay here. For Hotak, the wait just passed one year in February.

Hotak attends a Swedish language class at his refugee camp in Sweden.

Back in Afghanistan, Hotak had to leave behind his wife, his mother, 4 young brothers and 3 young sisters. He has no contact with them. There is no internet or reliable phone lines and his wife and mother can not read or write.

“I really miss them. Sometimes I feel lost like I don’t know who I am,” Hotak said. “Waiting this decision, it’s like I have no purpose, no destiny.”

Hotak's father was killed by Taliban when they came searching for him in the family home in 2014.

“I had only been home for one night on RnR when Taliban came to the house searching for me,” he said. Hotak was out visiting relatives at the time.

“They came with guns. My father wanted to stop them from entering the house so they shot him. I’m really not sure what happened exactly. I never got to see my family again since then.”

When Hotak heard the news, he fled.

“If they had caught me I really don’t know what they would have done, but I have heard the stories of what they did to others.”

Hotak described one friend who was caught and shot. Others have been dragged through the streets tied to the back of vehicles as a warning not to cooperate with foreign forces.

“They think we are not Muslim if we work with them. They call us spies for America. They really hate us.”

Hotak told of one experience when a small boy holding a Koran cursed him as he entered a building with US troops. Another threw a rock at their vehicle hitting the American gunman mounted on the back. The rock landed at Hotak's side.

“The gunner was shouting, “Give me my stone!” He wanted to keep it,” Hotak said.

Afghans find it hard to accept US troops in their country, Hotak explained.

185They think that America is the only one who created terrorist groups in Afghanistan

US soldiers burn a suspected Taliban safehouse.

Journey to Europe

After the attack on his family home, Hotak fled towards the Iranian border on foot. Using smugglers he crossed the heavily guarded Iranian border. After hiding and traveling in secret through Iran, he finally reached Turkey.

Although Turkey is a relatively save country, immigrants like Hotak or those fleeing from Syria hold no legal status. The only hope of a new start is to travel through to Europe.

While attempting to cross into Bulgaria, Hotak was caught and deported back to Turkey where he spent 10 days in prison. Undeterred, he tried again with another smuggling network.

“Sometimes they would arrange houses for us to stay in, often we would stay in the jungle,” he said.

On one occasion Hotak spent three days walking through the jungle in wind, rain and freezing conditions with a small group of travelers.

“The smuggler was an angry man, he just keep telling us 'Go! Go! Go!'” said Hotak. 

He traveled with an ever changing mix of refugees and families mostly from Syria. “Another time, in Hungry it was snowing and one father was really tired and the mother was sick so I took the child and carried him until we reached the border.”

The trip from Turkey cost over $7,000, but finally on February 23 last year, Hotak made it to Sweden.

“It felt amazing,” he said. But the struggle for this chance at a new life is not over yet.

“Afghan people don’t get residency easily. The European Union are under the impression that we have a new government and everything is going ok. But in reality it is messed up. New terrorists groups are emerging all the time. But still many people are sent back to Afghanistan when they apply for asylum,” explained Hotak. “But no one wants to leave their country. We only leave because it is impossible to stay…I really don’t know what will happen if they reject me.”

The Afghan city of Kandahar from which the Taliban emerged in 1994.

Until then, Hotak spends his time studying hard to learn Swedish. Local volunteers give free lessons in the camp several times a week, and Hotak borrows children's books from the local library to practice in between.

On a recent trip organized by one of his volunteer teachers to a local cinema, Hotak had the chance to see his first movie on the big screen.

“Under the Taliban cinemas were forbidden. Now there are some, but most young people are forbidden to go by families because of our culture,” Hotak said. “It was the first time in my life I have ever visited the cinema. My teacher was so surprised, she made me a certificate.”

Hotak's dream is that one day he can return to his home country and live there in peace with his family. But for now, he is just hoping he can stay safely in Sweden.

“The journey was very difficult. I think of the immigrants traveling now especially from Syria. The winter is here and many countries have closed the borders,” he said.

“I know immigrants are a bother for European countries. It is hard for them but they have to remember the second world war when they were refugees. They have to remember the countries that opened their borders for them.”

Hotak proudly holds a certificate made for him by his volunteer teacher (pictured right) after visiting a movie theatre for the first time in Sweden.  

#refugee #EuropeanMigrantCrisis #Sweden #Afghanistan #Refugeeswelcome  #Topaz #Taliban #war #conflict

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