The Director of International desk of The Oslo Times Paola Aparicio Cavero met Islamudin Shinwari for an exclusive interview.
An Afghan refugee’s nightmare
The Director of International desk of The Oslo Times Paola Aparicio Cavero met Islamudin Shinwari for an exclusive interview.
He thought he had reached a safe haven when he arrived in Oslo but the nightmare continues for a young afghan refugee, as the Norwegian Directorate of Immigration (UDI) have denied him political asylum. Islamudin Shinwari talks to The Oslo times about his current plight and how he escaped the Taliban in Afghanistan.He looks like any other young man with immigrant background in Oslo but his eyes have a far away look, as if he is still trying to absorp the recent events that have dramatically changed his life in 2011. Over a cup of coffee, he opens up his heart and starts telling a tale of persecution, fear and certain death if he is sent back to Afghanistan.
Islamudin, please tell me what happened on that fateful Friday in late 2011, when you were captured and abducted by the local Taliban?
I was at praying at the local mosque. It was just another ordinary Friday but Mandatai, where I come from, does not belong to a normal part of the world. It is a place controlled and run by Taliban. While we were still inside the mosque, praying, an anouncement was made that the people whose names were going to be called out would have to accompany a group of heavily armed local Taliban to an undisclosed location. This was a common form of recruitment for the Taliban and this is was how they filled the number of Mujahadeen fighters. There were only three names on the list and my name was one of them. That day my life changed dramatically forever. We gathered outside the mosque and I, along with three other recruits, was led by an armed Taliban. After a long journey, we finally arrived at a remote location across the Afghan border into Pakistan.
During the long journey, we were given very little food. I did not have proper shoes and my feet suffered terribly. I was cold, hungry, confused, and above all terrified at what would become of me. It was no secret who the Taliban were and the brutality they could inflict on anyone who would resist.
When we reached our destination, we were taken to a house made of mud brick and stone, which was surrounded by an enclosing wall of the same material. The place was in a remote location in the middle of a narrow valley ravine. Inside the complex were many people, some new recruits, others appeared to be hardened fighters. Personal space was extremely limited and the new recruits were stuffed in a room with others who had been forcefully removed from their homes as well.
Brainwashing the youth
What did they do to all the young men who were abducted ?
The first two months in captivity was spent being force-fed propaganda to generate hatred, mainly against the United States. This brainwashing was of course meant to get the new recruits to hate the U.S. enough to want to wage war. Still younger men, who were in their teenage years, were being groomed to be suicide bombers. This lethal training was meant to be used mainly against American military, but NATO targets, as well as local police and politicians believed to collaborating with the American/NATO initiatives, and even civilians suspected of collaborating with “the enemy” were on the hit list.
The attacks were planned in such a way that the fighters would never know their target in advance of an operation. As for the suicide bombers, they would be sent with a team of other combatants, who would prepare them fro strike or simply ensure that the young boys do not back out in the last minute.
The propaganda information given by the Taliban did not seem to be correct. For example, they claimed that the US mission was to simply kill Afghanis. Taliban also showed videos meant to portray Americans terrorizing Iraqis, or fellow muslims in general, which was meant to incite the hatred necessary for boot camp training.
While at the camp, I saw Mangal Bagh, the leader of Lashkar-e-Islam, a militant organization operating in Khyber Agency, Pakistan and some groups of Wazerestan Pakistan. Many people who were at the camp were Arabic, Chechen, signaling that they had come from other countries to take up the cause against the ‘enemy’.
So how did you manage to escape from your captors?
After two months I became friendly with one of the Taliban soldiers. I convinced him to let me go to help my family during the harvest season as they were dependent on me. I promised to return after I had helped my family and also promised him an undisclosed sum of money. He agreed to the deal and escorted me by foot back to the Afghan border and released me there.
Once I was free I fled as fast as I could to a distant village where I could find a trusted contact of my grandfather’s. I do no wish to disclose who this contact is. After a long journey where I was scanitly clad and not prepared for the arduous journey I arrived to meet a contact who I wish to keep anonymous. I told him the entire story. This contact gave me food, shelter, clothes and a safe place to stay, if only for a few hours. Later that night, under the cover of darkness, the contact took me by foot to my hometown of Mandatai. My sister and mother were overjoyed to see me as they had been horribly worried since I had disappeared without a trace. Sadly, this reunion would be short-lived as I was granted only a couple of weeks of freedom from the training camp. After the harvest was finished, I was supposed to return to the camp but instead I chose to flee.
You had fallen in love with an Afghani girl, can you tell us what happened ?
One year before I was abducted I had fallen in love with a girl called Parwana. It was supposed to be an arranged marriage where my grandfather approached the girl’s family to ask for her hand in matrimony for me. But her father was a Taliban and had served as a commander for the Mujahadeen in Afghanistan during the Soviet occupation. Parwana’s father rejected the proposal because my family had political ties previously with the PDPA, a political party that has western countries as a focus. Even before my grandfather had gone to her father, I had already met Parwana and we had fallen in love with each other.
What happened when you and Parwana decided to escape together?
When I came fback rom the camp after making the deal with the Taliban solider, I told my mother I wanted to flee from Afghanistan and that I wanted to take Parwana with me. Both her mother and mine agreed to us fleeing together, so I made plans for our escape, first to Pakistan then to Europe. During the planning process, Parwana went to my house on a few occasions, and in total secret, to finalize our plans to escape. On one of these fateful occasions, we were outside my house discussing plans to escape when one of Parwana’s brothers saw us together. This means we have a secret relationship. According to our culture that is a grave sin and brings great dishonour to a girl’s family.
Later that day, a few hours after Parwana had returned home, while working in the fields, I spotted three of Parwana’s brothers approaching in the distance – with AK-47’s. I started to slowly walk home. Suddenly shots rang out from behind me and I ran inside the house. There I found my panic-stricken mother, sister and grandfather. My grandfather tried to buy some time for me and asked for a peaceful solution by negotiating a Jigra. A Jigra is a local council where the elders decide what punishment is to be given to the guilty. In the meantime, Parwana’s brothers had killed her for bringing shame to the family’s honour and now they wanted to give me the same punishment. They agreed for a Jigra and left. The Jirga council would take a few hours to bring together, but one thing was clear – according to cultural traditions and laws, I had indeed committed a crime where the Jirga would deliver a death penalty verdict. There were no exceptions. My family knew this so they helped me to escape the same day.
How did you reach Oslo from Afghanistan?
My uncle drove me to a human smuggler’s house in Kabul. While the smugglers made their plans, I remained indoors for 28 days. I was told, in no uncertain terms, that I needed to remain indoors, for as long as it took, for my own safety. This was simply because, even in the big city of Kabul, if a new face suddenly shows up in a particular area, people start wondering who the stranger is. Questions are asked, word gets out, and if that person is sought after by the Taliban, he/she would most certainly be found. The only information I was given was that I would be told when I had to leave.
After 28 days the smugglers drove me to the Kabul Airport. They had made arrangements with the ariport security and handed over my legal documentation to them. The smugglers soon disappeared without a trace. First I flew to Dubai then later to the Netherlands. I was taken in a van from the Netherlands to Oslo by some people who seemed to Kurdish. I was not even allowed to step out to use a toilet during this journey. I was not clad for the Nordic climate so when we arrived I was cold and exhausted. In Oslo, I was released out on the streets and the Kurdish people who had brought me here, told me that now I was on my own. Disoriented and confused, I asked random people on the street where was the nearest police station. After a while, someone directed me to the Norwegian Directorate of Immigration ( UDI).
At the UDI he was frisked and then taken to a waiting room with several other people, from many other countries. After waiting in this room all night long, without proper bedding, Islamudin waited to be interviewed by a representative from the UDI and a translator. The UDI representative asked Islamudin a series questions, mostly revolving around why he was in Norway, how did he get there.
What was your experience with the Norwegian Immigration Authorities ( UDI)?
Many of the questions were asked in an extremely rude manner. I had been through a sort of hell that most of us can barely fathom, only to arrive in a completely foreign land to be treated in a compassionless manner by a singular UDI official. Luckily, I have family here in Norway. Directly after being processed by the UDI one of these family members picked me up and took me in. Finally, I was provided clothing, proper food, shelter and safety – by family.
Were you able to sleep at night?
In the immediate aftermath of this whole ordeal, I was unable to sleep, at all, for a full 48 hours. I constantly worried that my mother and sister would suffer violent reprisals for my brazen escape. When I was able to finally get some sleep, I suffered horrible nightmares.
Shortly after arrival in Norway, Islamudin’s mother and sister disappeared. They are simply gone. Islamudin cannot even send letters to his grandfather for updates. If he did, the letters would arrive at a local mail facility that is most likely under Taliban control. If the Taliban dicover that his grandfather is communicating with Islamudin, they will incur the wrath of the Taliban. Taliban has been sending letters to Islamudin’s family. According to the letters, he is accused of being a spy who had unlawful sex with a woman and hence is to be executed. Anyone knowing about his whereabouts must come forward so that Islamudin is punished under the sharia law. According to Islamudin, this is an edict that will follow him for the rest of his life. Local communities in Afghanistan are wary of new faces. Sooner or later, the Taliban would discover Islamudin. Thus no place in Afghanistan is safe for him.
The current nightmare
Are you still living with your family and what is your current situation?
I am now living in a refugee camp in Stavanger. The UDI has rejected my asylum application as well as my subsequent appeal. UDI has based it’s decision on the fact that I lived 28 days in Kabul and hence I can return to Afghanistan. They fail to understand how the system works back home. I was living in hiding for 28 days, not stepping outside. That is because a new face in any locality often generates curiosity as everyone knows their neighbourhood very well. Sooner or later, the news would reach Taliban and then they will carry out their execution. My relatives here in Norway are doing everything they can to secure my stay, as they know the consequences if I am deported.
If you were granted the asylum, how would you support yourself?
I am a smart, capable and motivated person and I want to build a new life for myself here in Norway. I want to work and my family here is well established. I want to do the same. Also, I value the western values, even though my own culture is very different.
Written by Saroj Chumber, Oslo
The Oslo Times is publishing this interview as it believes in the Article 19 the Universal declaration of Human Rights.
Article 19: Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes free to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.