“Place more trust in refugees”

30 Dec 2017 | Staying alive in turbulent times | by Julia Preinerstorfer

More than 244 million people are living outside their country of birth. Human mobility - forced and voluntary - is defining the 21st century. Europe is still witnessing chaotic scenes of thousands of migrants coming ashore on beaches or dying in the Meditteranean. How much progress has the EU made in managing the influx of migrants that have arrived on its shores since 2015? How can we help refugees and migrants integrate Europe? At Yo!Fest we look at migration as an emotional, sensitive, political issue but above all collective issue. Here's the story of Mostafa as told by Julia Preinerstofer as he fights bureocracy and discrimination to build a better future in Europe.

In Afghanistan, Mostafa’s family was wealthy and even owned a business. However, they belonged to a minority, which ultimately became their undoing. Persistent extortion and threats forced the family to escape from their home city of Herat to the capital Kabul. On the way to Kabul, the Taliban abducted them. Only a large sum of money freed the family from captivity. However, Mostafa’s father still remained in the hands of the Taliban. The rest of the family had no other option but to flee the country. Although the Noori family had an Afghan family passport with them, they had to travel mostly illegally from Pakistan to Iran and then to Turkey.

There, the family was faced with a tough decision. To move further to Europe or not?

They had already heard stories about the risky journey across the sea. Mostafa, now the eldest in the family, decided that the further flight would be too dangerous for his family. While his mother and two younger siblings returned to relatives back in Iran, Mostafa decided to take the risk. Like so many young refugees he went on the journey alone - on a boat. But his desire to get to Europe was stronger than his fear.

In Afghanistan, he had learned several languages and had already set up his own business at the age of 14. He wanted a better life for himself, one that he could not possibly have in Iran, where he would have to stay mostly undercover. Eventually, Mostafa arrived in Innsbruck, a city in Western Austria, where he applied for asylum but was first taken into custody for two days. He was only 16 by then.

Like many other asylum-seekers, Mostafa made his way on to Traiskirchen, which is a reception center for refugees located south of Vienna. He now refers to the two months he spent there as “hell.”

Hell, because he was doomed to wait with nothing to do. There were no German courses and no leisure facilities or activities. To keep himself at least somehow occupied, Mostafa studied German on his own,. Also, he had to go through a long procedure of determining his age. Finally, Mostafa got lucky as he was moved from Traiskirchen to the Noemi House of Don Bosco Refugee Foundation. He was amongst 10 people in a flat with 24/7 support and compulsory German language classes.

The move also meant that Mostafa could attend school again. Due to problems with the recognition of education obtained abroad, he had to re-start high school, which he completed after one year. At the moment he is about to finish his studies at a business school. But just going to school wasn’t enough for Mostafa. In addition to spending time with his newly-found friends, he got very interested in politics. He worked as a volunteer in a retirement home in Vienna for nine months, and now helps as a translator in Traiskirchen and other refugee facilities, is active for the Children’s Friends, the asylkoordination – an Austrian NGO focused on refugee rights, the Austrian Youth Council and the Network for Children’s Rights.

One of the highlights of Mostafa’s volunteer commitment was a speech he gave at the Austrian Parliament on children’s rights. He says being politically active is the best thing that has happened to him in Austria, in addition to his apartment that he has been sharing with two Austrians for 14 months now. With good experiences come several downsides. In addition to Mostafa’s endless asylum procedure, he says that getting insulted with racist comments on the street for no reason is painful.

Yet despite the racism and the horror of a three-year asylum procedure, Mostafa wants to stay in Austria. Because of the climate, and because there are also open, friendly people – and because of a school system that he could only wish, for his brothers and sisters in Iran. Ten years from now, Mostafa would like to have a good job and to be an Austrian citizen.

“Why did I study German after all? Nobody is doing that just for fun, it’s really hard,” he says.

Mostafa plans to continue his studies at the university, most likely in political science and social work. Maybe then he could fight for what he wishes for refugees in Austria: namely less bureaucracy and more integration.

“I really wish that people would place more trust in refugees. Let them show what they are able to do,” he says.

“They used to have a completely normal life, just like everyone else here. That’s just what they want to have back again.”

How can we promote the integration of refugees? Do you have any ideas? Leave a comment below or send us a message.

All photos: Austrian Youth Council / BJV. This text was translated from German by Pegah Moulana, Carina Autengruber and Julia Preinerstorfer.