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Young Afghan Smuggler Hopes To Help Peers Find A Future In Europe


The country's not safe and it's hard to get work. That's what Afghans will tell you if you ask why so many are now making the perilous journey to Europe. They're one of the biggest migrant groups and many of them get to Europe by paying smugglers. NPR's Philip Reeves sent this report from Kabul.

PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: This is where the journey from Afghanistan to Europe begins. A line of people stretches for hundreds of yards. They're mostly young men. They've come here to apply for passports.

HAMED PARVANI: Well, I want a passport because I want to escape from this country.

REEVES: Hamed Parvani is 35 and has a master's in business administration.

PARVANI: I want to go to Europe.

REEVES: Do you know where in Europe you'd like to go?

PARVANI: Maybe Germany or maybe Austria.

REEVES: Parvani says if he makes it to Europe, he fears he could easily wind up pumping gas or washing dishes. He'd much rather stay here.

PARVANI: If this president provide job for we Afghan people, I never leave my country. I love my country.

REEVES: Parvani has already planned his journey. He says much the easiest option is to use people smugglers.

These are your passports.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: No, it's not it's not my passport. It's another passport.

REEVES: In the garden of a restaurant, a young man pulls some passports from his pocket. He explains that these belong to people he's helping smuggle out of Afghanistan. He's taking these passports to the Iranian Embassy to get visas so his client can make the first step in their journey. The man wants his name withheld.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (Through interpreter) Because I'm afraid. You know what kind of work this is. This is dangerous work.

REEVES: This man is a small cog in a big wheel. He says his organization charges between $10,000 and $6,000 to smuggle someone to Europe. Much of that money goes to his boss and on bribes. The $6,000 option is basic.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (Through interpreter) You have to walk and ride in vehicles the whole way. You'll cross the border in the same way people smuggle goods.

REEVES: The man admits this isn't a safe way to travel.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (Through interpreter) The risk is at the border. If you're arrested you'll be beaten, jailed and deported. But if you pay more, you'll reduce the risks.

REEVES: Smuggling people across borders is a crime. This man does not see it that way. Afghanistan is highly unstable and corrupt. He was in the construction business, but work dried up. The man says smuggling is his way of earning a living in tough times and helping other young Afghans find a future.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (Through interpreter) If a person goes to Europe, he'll be able to support his family and his people. If they can't support their families and feed their children, of course they would join the Taliban or Islamic State.

REEVES: Back outside the passport office, an official wanders down the line, collecting application forms.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (Foreign language spoken).

REEVES: He pauses to count them. They're usually up to $2000 a day. He says President Obama's recent announcement that American troops are staying on in Afghanistan lowered that number by a few hundred. The pile of papers in his arms is still huge. Shakib Mohsanyar lives near the passport office. He's 24.

SHAKIB MOHSANYAR: Every day that I am moving to office or moving to gym, I'm seeing hearts of people that they are in the line. It's obvious that it made us really angry and made us frustrated.

REEVES: He started a campaign to stop the exodus.

MOHSANYAR: These are the workforce of the country. That's why it's really important that the youth should stay in the country and take part in the development process.

REEVES: Mohsanyar's waging his Afghanistan Needs You campaign on social media, helped by volunteers. They're working on other ways of warning the many Afghans who are not online of the dangers of migrating to Europe and the importance of staying home. This seems unlikely to deter the people smuggler from sending more Afghans overseas.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (Through interpreter) While our country is in trouble, I will keep helping them.

REEVES: The man says he wishes he too could take off for Europe.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Yeah, of course I want to go, but I don't have money. Because of this, I live in Afghanistan.

REEVES: Philip Reeves, NPR News, Kabul. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Philip Reeves is an award-winning international correspondent covering South America. Previously, he served as NPR's correspondent covering Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India.