I went to Iran when I was three, along with neighbours of my parents after I´d stayed behind alone. They were my only family from then on: my foster parents with their five sons and two daughters. We lived in a small village near Teheran. I stayed at home until the age of seven, then went to school for three years. When I turned ten, they sent me to work, to earn money for the family. An older brother had found me a job in a factory. It was located in an isolated industrial area as big as Maastricht, surrounded by other factories. Lots of desperate people have thrown themselves in front of a train on the railway track running through the desolate and depressing site. I worked in the factory for over five years.

It´s risky out on the streets in Iran for illegal Afghan refugees. The police puts you in prison when they find you. Without money to bail you out, you could be stuck in there for years, be deported to Afghanistan, or sent to Syria to fight in the Iranian army. Neither of these happened to me. But I guess my life in that factory was like prison too. I was often there day and night, working 15/16-hour days. If others were unable to get their day´s work done, I had to help them finish it. At the end of the month, one of my older brothers would come and pick up the money I had earned and took it home with him. Sometimes he brought me food and drinks, other times he didn´t. My Iranian boss was a good man. He used to give me something to eat when I didn´t have anything.

My job involved manually separating plastic medical waste. It was dirty, unhealthy work. The separated plastic was recycled into shoe soles. One day something bad happened. I don´t want to talk about it, it´s too painful, I just can´t. My foster father wanted to send me back to Afghanistan then, but my mother resisted. She paid a smuggler to bring me and her youngest son to Europe. It´s the nicest thing she ever did for me.

We were eleven in the car that took us to the border with Turkey. The border controls were strict, so they split us up in two groups, to increase the chances for all of us to make it across the border. My younger brother was assigned to the other group, we had nothing to say about this. We walked to Turkey, through the mountains. After reaching the other side, I wanted to wait for my brother´s group, but we were pushed on. It was too risky to wait for them. Each time I asked about the other group, I was told they were right behind us.

When crossing the sea between Turkey and Greece, in a three-meter rubber dinghy with 18 people, we nearly drowned. We were lucky to be rescued by another boat overcrowded with refugees. It was early November 2015 when I arrived in the Netherlands.

At the asylum seeker centre in Budel I bought a mobile phone and sent a message to a friend at the factory, asking him to contact my mother. That´s how I found out my brother had not made it to Europe. He had managed to go back home. I asked the Red Cross if they could help bringing him over, but they can´t do anything if he´s not in Europe. I´d also asked the immigration service if he could join me here as a family member. I´ve never received a reply to that request. A few months after his return, my brother was arrested. He was enlisted in the army, to fight in Syria. I don´t know if he´s alive.

This week I´ll turn 18. On my birthday I will be moved to an asylum seekers centre in Utrecht. I have lived in Maastricht for a year, in the special section for unaccompanied minors. I was allowed to go to school here until the summer. That´ll stop now, just like my life in Maastricht, with the friends I´ve made here. I have no idea what will happen now. They want to send me back to Afghanistan. But what should I do in that country, I don´t know anyone there, I have no family left. They say I can go to Iran from there, live in a city, find a job. I don´t want to flee and be illegal again.

At first we were happy and hopeful here in Europe, my new friends and I. We were free, got an education, and were looking forward to a bright future. But we´ve all received a negative decision in response to our request for asylum, one after the other. The uncertainty about what will happen to us is driving us crazy. It´s broken us completely. The authorities have no idea what they are doing to people. What´s going to happen with us? All we want is a quiet life, out of the shadows of an illegal existence.

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