Pakistani refugee overcomes injury and trauma on road to Europe

After suffering a horrific accident, 18-year-old Muhammad is on the road to recovery and has the chance of a fresh start in Croatia.

Muhammad Shahzad survived an accident when he tried to jump onto a moving train, losing one of his friends and his own leg. © UNHCR/Zsolt Balla

Pakistani teenager Muhammad can walk again, and even play basketball. His life is getting back on track. But he still bears the mental and physical scars of the horrific accident that shattered his leg, and his dreams, on his journey to Europe.

“All I wanted was a good life in a safe place,” says Muhammad. “I had no idea how hard the journey would be. I lost two of my friends along the way, and I lost my own leg.”

Croatia. Injured Pakistani refugee looking for a fresh start in Croatia.

Muhammad's pain is clearly visible when he recalls the horrific accident. © UNHCR/Zsolt Balla

Croatia. Injured Pakistani refugee looking for a fresh start in Croatia.

Even with one prosthetic leg, Muhammad has no intention of giving up his favorite sport, basketball. © UNHCR/Zsolt Balla

Croatia. Injured Pakistani refugee looking for a fresh start in Croatia.

Muhammad, like any 18-year-old, is well aware that school and education is key to his further success in life. © UNHCR/Zsolt Balla

Croatia. Injured Pakistani refugee looking for a fresh start in Croatia.

When asked who he misses the most, Muhammad shows a photo of his brother's son on his broken phone. © UNHCR/Zsolt Balla

After the accident in May 2017, which occurred when he tried to jump onto a moving train, Muhammad was treated and rehabilitated by Croatian doctors and cared for in Zagreb’s Home for Children. He has been granted refugee status and the chance of a fresh start in Croatia.

“People were shooting here, shooting there, and poor people were in the middle”

Just turned 18, he sits in a lounge room of the children’s home, looking out onto green fields. He recalls his childhood in a village near Peshawar.

“We played cricket, everyone played cricket, but cricket cannot save you. People were shooting here, shooting there, and poor people were in the middle.”

His mother urged him to flee and he set out for Europe with a cousin in 2016. Along the way, they were abused by mafia gangs and police and swindled of their cash. But the worst came in Croatia, as Mohammed tried to board a moving train.

“Three boys crouched by the wheels. Me and two others tried to jump on. The train moved. My hand slipped. It all happened in the blink of an eye. I looked at my leg. It was not with me. The head of my friend was like a football. His eyes were open. His body was in pieces. I was shouting, ‘oh my God, what happened? Please forgive me’.”

Muhammad lost his left leg from the knee down. His friend, also called Muhammad, was decapitated. Another of the group, a youth called Sadiq, was knocked unconscious. The other three were unhurt and eventually continued their journeys to Western Europe.

“Proper arrangements for receiving asylum seekers at the border might have prevented this tragedy,” said UNHCR’s representative in Croatia, Giuseppe di Caro. “But afterwards, Croatia did what it could to put matters right.”

Muhammad was treated in hospitals in Vinkovci and Zagreb. “At last, God sent me angels,” he says.

Local families, who were visiting their own loved ones in these hospitals, showed him kindness and at last he had some friends in Croatia.

Croatia. Injured Pakistani refugee looking for a fresh start in Croatia.

Muhammad was granted refugee status and the chance of a fresh start in Croatia. | © UNHCR/Zsolt Balla

Croatia. Injured Pakistani refugee looking for a fresh start in Croatia.

© UNHCR/Zsolt Balla

Croatia. Injured Pakistani refugee looking for a fresh start in Croatia.

© UNHCR / Zsolt Balla

At the Home for Children in Zagreb, Muhammad was assigned a guardian, Branko Orišković of the Croatian Red Cross, under a UNHCR project for the protection of unaccompanied and separated children. He helped him overcome depression and walk with a prosthetic limb.

The next step will be getting him back into education. Muhammad hopes to be reunited with his cousin, who is now in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

“He was a poor boy from Pakistan who dreamt of a better life. I took a stone and wrote his name on it, so he wouldn’t be so alone.”

When he could walk again, the first thing Muhammad wanted to do was to visit the grave of his friend Muhammad in Vinkovci. He went twice and could not find it. On his third visit he found an unmarked mound.

“He was buried with no name. He was a poor boy from Pakistan who dreamt of a better life. I took a stone and wrote his name on it, so he wouldn’t be so alone.

“I know he’s dead, and he’s not a relative, but I can clean his grave because he died with me in one accident, on the same day.”