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How Farhad found his family with Trace the Face

In 2009, Farhad left Afghanistan with his mother, sister and two brothers. He also had an older brother who worked as an interpreter for the US army, but he was marched off by enemy forces and hasn’t been seen since. They were all frightened that something similar could happen to other family members.

The family got on a bus and travelled to the Iranian border. There they were picked up in a car. “There were 13 of us in the car, plus the driver”, says Farhad.

“Three sat next to the driver: two on the seat and one on the floor. Four sat on the back seat and three more sat on the floor. That makes ten. Another three were in the boot”. Farhad draws his knees up under his chin. “It’s hard to sit like that. Sure, it’s ok for an hour, but after two, three, four or five hours it becomes very painful.”

The family stayed in Iran and Turkey for a long time. It’s not unusual for refugees to make long stopovers along the route to earn the money needed for their flight. In 2010, the family finally travelled to Greece, where Farhad organised the crossing to Italy by boat.

“My mother and siblings boarded the boat. But I didn’t. I kept the money and wanted to travel the next day.”

It was stormy on the Ionian Sea. The Italian coastguard discovered the boat just in front of the Italian coast. It was filled with water. The coastguard brought the passengers ashore and later sent them back to Greece.

This was the moment, Farhad lost contact with his family, as he could no longer reach his mother’s phone. “Probably because it got wet, I don’t know.” Yet he managed to make it to Italy on another boat. Having found no trace of his family, he continued on his journey through France and Belgium to Germany. In 2011 he arrived, claimed asylum and was issued with a ‘humanitarian residence permit’, which he has to renew every three years.

He didn’t know what had become of his family. Calls back home and research on Facebook and other websites were fruitless. For a few years now, Farhad has been supported by an organisation in Berlin that offers psychosocial help for political refugees ­– and it was this organisation that gave Farhad the idea to get in touch with the Red Cross to find his family.

Almost five years after he was separated from his family, Farhad’s photo was published by the GRC Tracing Service on the www.tracetheface.org website, accompanied by the words ‘I’m looking for my family’. Then Farhad waited.

Around a month later, his brother’s English teacher in Afghanistan discovered his picture and contacted the family – who had since returned home. Just a short time later, the family were able to speak to each other again over the phone.

How was it? Farhad remains composed as he describes his call with his brother. “I’ve spoken to him every day. Day one, day two, day three.” There was so much to talk about – and now he finally also knew what had happened to his family after they lost contact in Italy.

After the ordeal with the water-filled boat and their deportation to Greece, his mother didn’t want to make a second attempt at the crossing. In addition, Farhad’s youngest brother got sick on the way to Italy, so the family returned home to Afghanistan. The youngest brother died there as a result of his illness, which Farhad believes he contracted on the crossing between Greece and Italy.

Five years alone with an uncertain residence status has been very hard for the young Farhad. He hopes that his family can one day be reunited. He is in Germany and they are still in Afghanistan, but Farhad has never given up hope that they can one day join him.

 

Find out more about the Trace the Face project here.

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