“At home there was no future. People died every day,” says sixteen-year-old Atif from Afghanistan.
“So my family paid a friend of my father’s to get me out.”
Atif embarked alone on what would be a long and dangerous journey to find safety in Europe. A journey that would see him lose a good friend.
“Mountain passes were the hardest. We always walked in the dark to avoid being seen and it was very cold. For several days, we had only water and biscuits.”
“My friend, who left the village with me, fell off the mountain when the border police started shooting. I do not know if he lived or died. I just kept telling myself not to give up.”
After travelling for two months through eleven countries, Atif finally reached safety in Luxembourg. He was one of the 90,000 boys and girls who sought asylum in Europe without parents or guardians between the summers of 2015 and 2016 – a significant increase to previous years.
“Our boat overturned. So many people drowned”
Today Atif lives together with eight other boys at Luxembourg Villa Nia Domo – a centre for unaccompanied minors specialized in supporting those who have faced particularly severe experiences. Each of the boys has a similar story about their harrowing journey to reach a safe haven all by themselves.
“I had never been out at sea before. I was very scared so I bought two life-jackets,” fellow country-man Aslam, 15, describes his attempt to reach Greece from Turkey.
“After a while at sea, our boat overturned. So many people drowned.”
“I could not swim and held on to the boat. Then I don’t remember much until I was rescued.”
“Here rules are respected and it is safe”
Little by little the boys are now building a new life at the Villa Nia Domo which is run by the Luxembourg Red Cross and where they can stay until they turn eighteen.
Dedicated Red Cross support teams with social workers, ethno-psychologists and nurses support unaccompanied minors at the country’s reception and asylum centres. The children are supported in medical care, attending schools and after-school activities such as art and sports programs, and in integrating into the local community.
“These centres help give unaccompanied minors a chance after all of the awful things that they have fared. A chance to build a better future,” explains Habiba Ezzahiri, team manager at one of the reception centres.
“In Luxembourg, the schools are good and people are kind,” says 13-year-old Ditmer from Albania.
“Here rules are respected and it is safe. I like it here.”