Beatrix Senoner and Can Eminoğlu | 6 May 2021
Illustrations: ©UNHCR/Yen Mooi
This is the story of Omar, a young refugee from Afghanistan, who has big plans for the future. With support from EU Humanitarian Aid and other donors, Omar and his family have received protection assistance from the Human Resource Development Foundation (HRDF), one of UNHCR’s protection partners. HRDF is a local NGO active in eight provinces across Turkey. It aims at facilitating refugees’ access to protection services, while also providing psycho-social and legal support through a community-based approach.
In 2012, when Omar was eight years old, he and his family had to leave their home in conflict-torn Afghanistan, in search of a safer life. Today, he is 16 and has spent half of his life in Turkey’s capital Ankara, which has now become his second home. “I am grateful for having been able to come here,” he says, “as life in Afghanistan was not easy for my family.”
Omar speaks English and Turkish fluently and is a keen reader of classical literature. He specifically likes spending his free time going over classical literature and contemplating his readings. “Sometimes I feel lonely and that I carry a lot of weight on my shoulders,” Omar admits. “When that happens, I think about a quote by Friedrich Nietzsche, one of my favourite philosophers: “To live alone one must be either a beast or a God, says Aristotle. Leaving out the third case: one must be both – a philosopher.” This resonates with Omar, who particularly loves philosophy and reaches for his books whenever he feels a sense of loneliness. He enjoys reading the works of the great philosophers, from Socrates to Plato and Aristotle, but also more modern works. In the books, he finds comfort as well as new perspectives, that help him shape his mind and see the world through different eyes, especially in times of difficulty, such as during the COVID-19 period.
Omar explains that, even though he is only 16 years old, he makes sure to look after his family members and ensure their wellbeing. Both of Omar’s parents suffer from a heart condition, while his older brother is affected with a severe disability, requiring full-time care. So far, with the help of UNHCR’s protection partner HRDF, the family has been able to get by, receiving cash assistance to cover some of the medical expenses and a part of the care and hygiene items they need. The cash support is provided to the most vulnerable refugees in order to address immediate protection needs and help them avoid any negative coping strategies. Omar’s mother and sister also attend regular events at the UNHCR-supported centre in Ankara, where they participate in workshops and training courses. “Without this support, I do not know how my family would have been able to manage. This help has been crucial. However, due to my family’s special needs, we require even more support.”
A picture from Omar’s childhood, when his family was living in Afghanistan.
Over the years, Omar also approached UNHCR’s NGO partner for psychosocial assistance and to participate in conversation groups with other young persons. The gatherings bring young refugees together and provide them with key information they need for living in Turkey. “I participated in all the sessions provided,” Omar says. “Off the top of my head, one particular group session I recall is an event to which a lawyer was invited who explained to us the rights we, as refugees, have under the Turkish Law. Unfortunately, most of the sessions’ participants were quite younger than me, so I mainly connected with the organizers of the programme, who I am still in touch with today.”
For the time being, Omar is waiting for the COVID-19 pandemic to end, so he can reconnect with his high school friends and bring some variety back into his life. But his real dream is much bigger: While he loves philosophy and languages, Omar’s big passion is sports. Once he finishes high school, Omar wants to achieve his lifetime goal of becoming a goalkeeper in a professional football team. “I am not very tall, but I am doing a good job as a goalkeeper in the team I am playing with here in Ankara,” Omar notes with a smile. “My dream would be to play for a professional football team.I know professional teams are always looking for new talents, so I hope that one day this could be me.”
At the end of our conversation, Omar adds thoughtfully: “While I have these dreams for my life, no matter what happens in the future, taking care of my family will always come first. I will never lose sight of that.”