We met Afsar and his friends during a trip to Paris in March. He wanted to tell his story and he wanted for us to share it.
Afsar is 35 and originally from Afghanistan. With insistence and support from his family for his own safety, he left home in 1999. Facing many dangers he travelled across various countries eventually staying in the Calais ‘Jungle’ before making his way to the UK to set up a new life at just 19. He was fortunate enough to be considered a child and was allowed entry into the UK. On his entry to the UK, he was given a place in foster care. Afsar says he did not understand what foster care meant and this was not explained. Fearing these strangers were going to abduct him, he panicked and ran away. He then spent 16 years living in and around London working in a variety of jobs including in a pizza shop and as a limousine driver.
In 2016, Afsar says his life was turned upside down when he was deported to Italy. They say it was because he did not have the right papers. In Italy, Afsar says that he faced regular racial abuse, social isolation and made to feel like an outcast. Feeling he was out of options, Afsar made the journey back to Calais, if only for the sense of belonging he felt amongst the residents of the ‘Jungle’.
The ‘Jungle’ then got demolished with the refugees that inhabit it being dispersed across France under the illusion that they could try to apply for asylum. Afsar says that he does not meet the criteria for Asylum. Instead, he joined a few friends in Stalingrad, Paris and they have remained there since. Afsar explained how the winter was really cold this year and he didn't think he would survive it. He said that they were so cold all the time and had nowhere to get warm. Afsar says that many of the people he knows got very sick, with no adequate heat, sleeping bags or other essentials necessary to survive and winter on the streets.
Stalingrad has some ground rules for the refugees, this includes them having to be up and packed way early in the morning. They are then able to store their belongings until the evening. They can access a shower in the morning then they disperse until evening. Usually alone or with a friend just wondering around. In the evening they are learning French, which Afsar feels is really good for his friend who has completed an application for asylum. However, he now faces the tough decision of his next steps.
Unable to return to the UK, and not being able to apply for asylum in France his options are to either return to Italy or Afghanistan. Whichever he decides he is going to face huge conflict, challenges and potential threats to his life. Afsar is almost certain that he will plea for deportation to Afghanistan, where if nothing else he may meet some long lost family members although unsure of his safety and praying to stay safe there.