His name was Jahan. He was a good looking, polite and nice 23 year old, who left Iran to join his uncle in Germany. His journey began by driving to Turkey by car with a family member. From Turkey he crossed Bulgaria and into Macedonia before arriving in Belgrade. In Belgrade he tried to find a way to continue his route towards Germany. This would prove to be very challenging.
I became acquainted with Jahan through a mutual friend. While walking in the city center my friend Otto met Jahan. Jahan did not speak English, so they had a conversation with the assistance of google translate. Otto found out that he was having a hard time and that he didn’t have any place to sleep for the following nights. Otto decided to call me and ask if I would be able to accomodate Jahan for a couple of days.
I immediately agreed and Otto brought Jahan to our house. When I met Jahan I immediately identified with him, and thought that he could have been my son. After giving Jahan some nice clean clothes, showing him his room, and facilities for showering, we celebrated his arrival in our home with a nice family dinner.
During dinner, everyone in the family had their phones out and used google translate to have a conversation. We wanted to hear his story, why was his making this difficult journey. Google translate was useful, but could not help us to communicate perfectly. We could not fully understand why Jahan had left his country. I think that the main reason was that he wanted to live in the west, stay with his uncle and take advantage of the freedom he would gain by leaving Iran. I also think that he was pretty unprepared for this journey and that if he had known how difficult it would be, he may have thought it twice about undertaking such a challenge.
The following morning, we had breakfast together and then all left the house for the day. Jahan’s first task for the day was to get a haircut. I believe that this was very important for him as a way to gain back some dignity after these hard times. Despite having the money to pay for a haircut, he struggled to find a hairdresser who would accept to cut his hair.
Around the same time, the border between Serbia and Hungary was strengthened, and the route was no longer accessible. After a week with us, Jahan decided to try to pass through to Hungary. He stayed a couple of days in a camp at the border, paid a couple of hundred euros to smugglers to help him go through but came back to Belgrade and to our home without being able to continue his journey via Hungary.
After a couple of days, he decided to try to continue and pass through Croatia, again with no success. Again, he paid smugglers but only lost time and money. Even worse, he told us that he had been beaten by the police and that his phone had been stolen, so he was very desperate when he returned a third time to our home.
Jahan made a third attempt to continue his journey. He bought a fake Swedish passport with a picture that didn’t look at all like him and with a name that he could not even pronounce. He was convinced that he could climb on a bus like a normal tourist and head towards Zagreb. He had bought fake glasses disguise himself to look more intellectual or mysterious. He carried a German book and was confident that he looked like a student on a trip. Of course, it didn’t work and he finally came back to Belgrade, stayed in a cheap hostel not to bother us anymore and asked his parents to send him an airline ticket back to Iran.
We are still in touch via viber. He has since returned to Turkey with his girlfriend. While I am not sure what he is doing there but he looks happy.
This was an incredible experience for our family, on a human level of course but also culturally and geopolitically. My children were taught that life can be really difficult for some people who need to escape from their country for various reasons and that freedom is something we should value and appreciate every single day.
Jahan’s story reminded us how lucky we are and that it feels good to share with people in need whenever you get a chance…