In a room hung with lines of dripping laundry, fourteen year old Watan stays wrapped up in a thick puffa jacket in the cold shell of the derelict paint factory where he has been squatting for the past six months. Missing sections of its roof, mould creeps over the half flooded building made vivid by the names of successive residents scrawled over its walls in bright colours mixed from the kegs of powdered paint left behind on the factory floor. Forty-five minutes walk from the town of Thiva, just seventeen Afghan migrants and refugees remain as winter fast approaches making conditions in this remote spot near Elionas village even more unbearable. When work on the surrounding farms was more regular in spring and summer, fifty men and boys slept in the factory but most have moved on with the season.
Setting off from his home in Hesarak village, Nangahar more than a year ago, Watan has found himself stuck. Leaving his family in great debt to the smugglers who facilitated his journey to Greece, the curly haired young boy can find no other means to continue on his path to Western Europe. Running out of money to pay the middlemen for his bed and board in Athens, Watan took himself off to the farms of Thiva in search of some menial work that could keep him moving. “Here there are mostly onions. The farmers should pay fifteen or twenty Euros a day but the reality is that they give us much less and sometimes we have to wait weeks before we see any money. The last time I worked was more than a month ago now and it’s impossible for me to save a cent”. Still owed wages, Watan is sleeping on a blanket spread out on the concrete floor of a back room amid the puddles. The wind blows in from the window frames and doors that are no longer covered, “All of us here are suffering from cold and are getting sick. I don’t know how to move on anymore”.
Unable to afford the exorbitant prices the smugglers are demanding to leave Greece or the high rents the middlemen are charging in Athens, lost travellers are forced to divert from their paths. Stranded on their journeys west, many young Afghans go in search of menial jobs that seldom pay; at worst finding themselves trapped or enslaved. In the bleak fields surrounding Thiva, the crumbling shells of old hospitals, farms and factories have become islands for some of the most vulnerable children, forgotten on the edge of Europe.
In the Flowers of Afghanistan, Alixandra Fazzina follows Afghan boys making the dangerous overland journey from Afghanistan and Pakistan to Europe to apply for asylum in EU Member states.
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