Migrants´ stories 2021 | International Organization for Migration

Migrants´ stories 2021

A second chance to childhood



By the age of 14 most young boys are worrying about their school performance, their relationships with their friends, dreaming of the day they will get older, be free and able to choose for themselves. A.Z. a 14-year-old from Kabul, Afghanistan, shares the same worries, even though he has chosen his very own lifepath a long time ago.

“I’ve lost my mother when I was really young. She died when she gave birth to my brother.” Life in Afghanistan was always difficult and access to medical care and education was limited.

“I started working with my father at a building material factory outside Kabul. I was only 10 years old, but I knew I had to provide for my family. Even though it was a very hard time for me, I miss those days.” At the age of 12, on his way home, A.Z learned about the death his father.

“It was one of those moments in my life, that I won’t be ever able to forget. Also, it was the moment when I realized that I wasn’t safe, and I had to leave my country.”

After many challenges A.Z reached Chios island on January 2021 and was hosted in the Safe Area of Reception and Identification Center. It wasn’t easy at first; he found it hard to sleep, he had flashbacks and struggled with the separation from his family. But it was the first time in his life that he started to feel safe. The aim of his travel was to arrive to a country, where he could have access to education, he could be able to start his life from scratch. 

“I feel lucky that I have so much support from everyone and that I’m finally able to dream a better future. With all the support I receive from the IOM team, I have the opportunity to restart my life. I still can’t believe that I have the chance to be a child again.”

Following many discussions about his goals and dreams, he was registered in the official public high school, where he attends classes. His Greek classmates are very supportive, help him improve his language skills and he already became friend with many of them. He also attends Greek and English lessons, provided by IOM educators under the framework of non – formal education activities.

“Learning new languages like English and Greek is a challenge for me. But I know that it would be a valuable asset for my future either in Greece or in another European country.”

“Having the chance to meet new people from other countries, new cultures and different backgrounds, has widen my horizons. Although I was feeling frustrated when I first arrived in Greece, I feel now much more confident to succeed my goals and built a life that I had never imagined. Education opens so many opportunities to a child. “

He enjoys learning new things and participating to many activities to keep his mind busy and be able to provide to the other children staying in the Safe Area, which operates under EU – funded project MERIMNA. “It is so important to make your own choices about your life. It is also important to feel safe and contribute to the society,” he adds. “Now, I feel safe and ready to set my next goals. I want to study, work hard, travel the world and learn as many things I can! But mostly I want to help other children with similar background to mine, make them believe that they deserve a second chance to childhood.”

“This is why I’m interested in studying Phycology. I want to obtain the knowledge and all the available tools what will ease the pain of children with a trauma. I’ve been through the same process and I know that there’s always a way out at the end of the tunnel.”

The Safe Area team on Chios island operates under IOM’s project MERIMNA, with the support of European Commission – DG HOME.

Every person should have free access to education and every school should be a safe place for everyone

M. Zafari and M. Riza share their thoughts and feelings through their talent


Mohammed Zafari and Mohammed Riza, two male artists with similar experiences, met by chance in the open center of Malakasa and narrate their adventures and concerns through their paintings. The two men combined their knowledge and paved the way for the visual arts for the residents of Malakasa, providing daily painting lessons for free in the workshop they have set up. Both artists have their own perceptions of the world and their works are inspired from their personal experiences. The issue of migration has been captured on their canvas, depicting their concerns but also the hope for the future.

[ Mohammed Zafari ]

Mohammed Zafari is 23 years old and comes from Uruzgan, a province of Afghanistan that has not ceased to be a battleground of various forces since 330 BC, he explains. Although he was born in Afghanistan, his family moved to Iran when he was very young, and he grew up there. He explains the struggles he experienced in Iran. "We had to pay tuition fees, of exorbitant prices, while the Iranians had not. They offered us the opportunity for education when in fact it was hindered," he says. "We were five siblings and our parents could not afford it for all of us."

Mohammed Zafari started to work from a very young age in Iran as a builder to make ends meet and not be a burden to his family. However, he did not like it since it was not what he had imagined for him. He left his family and decided to travel to Turkey. He stayed there for two years until he raised some money and managed to move to Lesvos. In Moria, his life changed when he met Eric, a volunteer from the United Kingdom who was helping with the situation at the camp. Speaking with gratitude about Eric, he explains that he gave him the necessary materials to start painting. "So, I started painting and I discovered my talent. Now I teach others to paint. It gives me even more joy to see others evolving in this art through me."

Zafari likes painting and music. He plays guitar and piano.

"Art and music are necessary in our lives more than ever, especially now that we are isolated because of COVID-19. Despite already existing distances, combined also with those that the pandemic created, our paintings act as a bridge and bring us closer, regardless our country and language."

Always adhering to the protocols to prevent the transmission of COVID-19, the two men provide classes daily to those who wish to learn painting.

The Hope Eye

"This painting belongs to the surrealist movement. It tries to bridge two contradictory situations, the dream and the reality that is not directly perceived by the human eye. At first glance, the painting may not seem logical, but each element has an interpretation and correlation with the rest.

Initially, the eye is inspired by the well-known ‘evil eye’ that prevails in the Mediterranean and the Middle East and symbolizes the bad energy. In my painting, it can be interpreted as the other look with which we need to look at some situations, such as the need for some people to come to Europe in search of a better life. "The eye is the Eye of Hope and its center consists of the European flag," Zafari explains.

"Blue symbolizes both the sky and the sea, two elements that you cannot easily distinguish one from another when looking at Greece from Turkey. Blue defines the hope of passing from Turkey to Greece and from there, to the rest of Europe.

The two hands are inspired by the painting "The Creation of Adam" by Michelangelo. The painting gives the impression that God (on the right), the Giver of life, is approaching Adam (on the left and below of his Creator), who has not yet received it. The two are not on the "same level." In my approach, both hands are of humans; one hand from a European citizen and the other from a person far from Europe who wants to find refuge in it. Both hands are on the "same level" because all people are equal. The two fingers have not touched each other yet, but both point to the European Union and are close enough so the one gets energy from the other.

[ Mohammed Riza ]

Mohammed Riza is 30 years old, born and raised in Kabul, Afghanistan.

Mohammed managed to go to school in Afghanistan, and for 13 years he did what he loved. He was a professor of painting at a university, until the university was attacked, and he felt that his hopes were dashed, together with the university.

He and his family decided to seek refuge in neighboring Iran first, but there they had no right without the necessary documents and there was no chance of obtaining them. They stayed there for a while and continued their journey to Turkey and from there to Greece. In 2019 they arrived in Lesvos.

When asked if he would like to return or if there is something he misses from his country, he wondered who would like to live or have a family in fear, poverty, dust from the ruins and extremism? "I do not mind staying in Greece or going to another country. Afghanistan is an unstable country and I want to be where I feel safe."