“I can’t think too much about my past if I want to go forward”

Second Chances: Fawad’s story of finding refuge in Denmark is one of sacrifice, courage, strength and hope.

“Second Chances – Refugee Voices in Denmark” is a series of portraits of refugees who have found protection in Denmark and have had the opportunity to rebuild their lives here. The portraits tell stories of struggle and resilience. Of determination and hope. Join these people as they trace their journeys to Denmark from different war-torn countries and reflect on their path back to normality in their new home Denmark.


As a young child Fawad had a nice life living in Kandahar, Afghanistan with his parents and two older sisters. Fawad attended Koran school and was a bright student. But as a result, the Taliban wanted to recruit him. The military group said they would pay his family, but his parents refused. Soon after, Taliban soldiers came to Fawad’s house and brutally killed his father. His mother was able to flee with her three children and risked driving to Pakistan, leaving everything behind.

In Pakistan, Fawad’s mother paid a smuggler to travel with him – and get him away from the Taliban and to safety in Europe – but she could not afford for the rest of the family to go as well. Consequently, at the age of eleven, Fawad traveled alone with only a backpack that his mother packed with some food and water.

He remembers travelling in a group with smugglers from Pakistan to Iran and then walking across the mountains to Turkey and taking an overcrowded boat across the sea to Greece and onto Italy. From there he went by train through France and Germany and finally ended in Denmark. It was a long, dangerous journey, and Fawad felt scared and alone, but he didn’t have a choice. At Copenhagen’s central train station, the smuggler told Fawad he would use the bathroom and he never came back.

“My dream is to be in a place where there is no danger. My dream is not to have to worry.”

After waiting a long time, Fawad realized he had been left on his own. Thankfully he heard some people speaking an Afghan language, so he went to them and asked for help. They took him to the Red Cross where he was asked many questions and then sent to an asylum center.

Today, Fawad cannot remember many details from the time in the asylum center because he was so sad and lonely. What he knows is that he was granted asylum and lived in a state group home for boys for a few years before transferring to his current home with other unaccompanied refugees at Morelhuset in Græsted.

Fawad thinks his mom and sisters may be living in Iran now, but he has not had contact with them for over a year because they do not have a phone or computer. And the restrictions on family reunification in Denmark proves a huge barrier for Fawad’s family to join him here.

 

Growing Up in Denmark

When Fawad arrived in Denmark, he went directly to the normal Danish school where he learned the Danish language. He has completed Danish school and is currently training to become a pedagogue so that he can take care of young children:

“I am glad to talk about children’s problems and to help them … People have more choices here. You don’t have many choices in Afghanistan.”

In so many ways, Fawad’s life is that of a typical teenager: He likes video games, he is an avid football fan, he goes to the beach with friends. © Sasja van Vechgel

Some of his friends here advised him that he should have chosen to be more of a labor man in case he is sent back to Afghanistan so that he would have a skill. Taking care of children is not considered a skill in Afghanistan, so he could not have that occupation there. However, Fawad had made up his mind:

“I am living here now. Now is now. We as humans need to have a plan. If we don’t have a plan there is no meaning to it. Without a plan we cannot create a goal, and we need to live with a goal.”

In so many ways, Fawad’s life is that of a typical teenager – he likes to play video games, he is an avid football fan, cheering for Brøndby in Denmark and Real Madrid, and on the weekends, when the weather is good, he goes to the beach with his friends. But then there’s that part of his life that has to do with stress and fear of not having a permanent permit ot stay in Denmark:

“I don’t know my future. Maybe tomorrow the government will say, ‘You cannot stay here anymore. We don’t need you here. You have to go back to Afghanistan.’ Of course, I am afraid.”

The rules to acquire permanent residency in Denmark have changed a lot in the past few years, and the requirements get harder and harder for refugees to fulfill. The Danish authorities have earlier stated publicly that Afghanistan is safe, but Fawad does not believe Afghanistan would be safe for him. The Taliban, who killed his father and wanted to recruit him, are still active in his area, and he has no family left there.

“I am glad to talk about children’s problems and to help them … People have more choices here. You don’t have many choices in Afghanistan.”

“I live in Denmark, I go to school, I go to the club, I have my friends, I feel that I should have the same rights, but because of what is going on right now, it’s hard to feel Danish when I don’t feel welcome. I feel accepted by my Danish friends, and I have many ties, but I do not feel accepted by the state. I am safe today but maybe not tomorrow.”

“My dream is to be in a place where there is no danger. My dream is not to have to worry.”

And if granted permanent residency in Denmark, he dreams of finishing his education, finding a wife, having his own family and helping other people.

“I like living in Denmark because it’s quiet and relaxed. I watch the children walking home from school, and they have no worries. There is no war. It makes me happy to live in such a safe place.”

The restrictions on family reunification in Denmark proves a huge barrier for Fawad’s family to join him here. ©Sasja van Vechgel

Of course, Fawad still misses his mother and sisters. Telling his story is difficult for him, but whenever he feels lonely or sad, he tells himself to look ahead:

“It does not help to cry. I need to dream and go after my dreams. I can’t think too much about my past if I want to go forward. I need to fight for my dream. If I don’t fight, then I get nowhere. It doesn’t come by itself.”

The Authors

The portrait series “Second Chances – Refugee Voices in Denmark” is produced by Amy Cunningham and Sasja van Vechgel for UNHCR Representation for Northern Europe.

Amy Cunningham is an American freelance writer who focuses on telling human stories to foster empathy, expand understanding, and cultivate connections. She strives to give the subjects of her stories their own unique voice, empowering them to link us all in new capacities. Her love of travel and exploring different cultures has led her to meet diverse people from around the world, each with their special story to share.

Sasja van Vechgel is a dutch photographer, born in the Netherlands in 1975, known for de-stigmatizing her subjects, humanizing people again. Her work is characterized by a combination of social documentary photography, often focused on human rights and health issues with an artsy flavor. She has been living and working in Bangladesh, Cameroon, Tanzania, Indonesia and Denmark for the past 18 years, which has resulted in a variety of assignments for multinationals and NGOs, international awards and exhibitions.

Read also the stories of Moudi, Rahme and Elisha.