Read Our Special Feature: Voices from Afghanistan

Five Years. Five Children. 4,300 Miles.

Photography by Elizabeth Thayer
040 Mehrullah Zarghona LS 1915

Sima:

“My husband’s father was a public figure. He held a high position in the Afghan state. He was attacked, beaten, and forced to leave his job. Now one of his hands and his feet are paralyzed. Now he cannot walk at all.

Temur:

“Still, we stayed for two years. After two years many problems started to happen. But we resisted.

“They gave us warnings, they came and broke the lock on my store. They took everything and broke everything. I tried to do my business at home. They said if I started again, they would hurt my family. They set our store on fire.

“After the store burned, I started to sell cars. I bought them and sold them. When I sold cars, I found a witness identifying the person who destroyed the store and we turned him in to the police. The police arrested him. But, I was warned, if you don't have him released, you and your family will be eliminated. We ignored the threats and the person was sentenced to ten years in prison, but he was released on probation.”

Sima:

“We had to leave. We had many problems. So, we called a smuggler. They treated us with hate. No sleep at night, no food for days.”

Temur:

In Turkey, we were caught and separated from our child. When the police deported us, they punished and beat me a lot. The Turkish police didn’t understand what I was saying in my language. I was telling them that my child was gone.

I cried and begged them to help us bring our child back, but they did not help us. “


040 Zarghona LS 1977

Sima:

“We spent several nights in the mountains without water or bread. It was snowing. It was so very hard. We did not even hope to see the light of day.”

Temur:

“They treated us despotically. We called a smuggler we knew, but we had no cash to pay with. We finally found some…but it was very difficult. We paid him $2500.

“We spent one or two more days in the mountains, and they told us that they would bring our child. But they did not, and we had to pay them more money before they brought him to us.

“I was talking about this small child. He is only 5 years old.

040 Umron Liz Thayer 1

Temur:

“Now, we don't even have electricity. We did everything to come here and gave them everything we had. Tell people all of us suffer a lot of pain and are forced to come. We all come in hope for a better life. We’re not here for fun, we’re not in need of money. We were forced to come."


“I just want them to understand me. To understand, the man they see here in this tent, is here because he had no other choice.”

Sima gave birth to a healthy baby just days after sharing her story with us. After spending more than nine months in Greece, she and her husband decided to once again pay a smuggler to guide them and their four children across the closed borders and up into Serbia—a distance of 470 miles.

With other families (all with small children), they made their way to Serbia where they hid in a barn until a friend delivered them to a camp. But, conditions in the Serbian camp were worse than in Greece. They considered returning to Athens, but decided to make their way to the Hungarian border instead. There they waited for months, with no shelter, foraging for food, drinking water from puddles, and enduring abuse from the border guards, until their name was drawn and they were allowed to cross into Hungary.


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There, they were locked in a camp for a year. When Covid hit, the guards finally released them. We followed them on their uncertain journey from Serbia northward. In 2020 they made it to Austria and ultimately to Germany, where they turned themselves in as asylum seekers.

In Germany they live in a tiny town, sharing a house with six other people. The town doesn’t have a grocery store. Bus fare to and from the next town is 5 Euros each way, or an hour and a half walk. Temur is learning German and the children are in school. They are hoping to be able to afford their own apartment in the future. Both Temur and Sima are concerned for their families still in Afghanistan. Some family members have not been heard from in over a week.

For more on Fahim, Temur and Sima's oldest child go here.


“The Taliban are poison. But my family is safe. My children have a future.”


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