LESVOS, GREECE – Afghan refugee Naveed Walizada looks across the Aegean Sea towards the mountains Turkey on a cold, windy and rainy January day. It was just hours after he arrived in Greece, having survived a dangerous crossing on those very waters.
“It was all scary. Horrible,” says Walizada.
He spoke to Global News shortly after arriving on the shores of the Greek island of Lesvos in an overcrowded inflatable raft. The 24-year-old English teacher recalls the day he had to leave his family.
“My mother was crying a lot,” he says.
It was just over a month ago that he said farewell to his parents, three sisters and brother in Afghanistan.
“I had to start this journey to become a refugee to any country only because of war and Taliban […] they’re killing people,” says Walizada.
He says for several months he had heard the Taliban would kill him for teaching English.
However, he says it wasn’t until one night when he came home and his grandfather told him the Taliban was actively looking for him right then and there that he packed up his bags and left home. He made his way through Iran, Turkey and then Greece.
“I had no other way; I had no other choice.”
Walizada says a fuel truck driver helped him escape Afghanistan and once in Iran, he and other refugees walked long distances in the snow.
“I even didn’t eat for three days. No water, no food,” he says.
Walizada says not everyone survived that part of the perilous journey.
“When I was moving from Iran to Turkey by walking 16 hours, it was so long and cold, some kids died. I saw them by my eyes, they were dead,” says Walizada.
Finally making it to Turkey, Walizada says he and fellow refugees had to rely on violent smugglers for passage to Greece.
“They just care about the money. When they see someone, they don’t see a person, they just see money. They don’t care about humanity,” says Walizada.
He didn’t think he’d survive the voyage on the inflatable raft. The dinghy was tossed by heavy waves; conditions so rough he even lost his backpack, with his passport inside, into the sea.
“The children, the women, they were screaming and they were really afraid from the water,” says Walizada.
“They pay $2,000 a head to take this treacherous journey. How bad is it that they are fleeing their countries that the water is the most safe place,” says longtime refugee aid volunteer and full-time humanitarian, Alison Thompson.
Despite his ordeal, when he landed on shore on Lesvos, his attention turned to helping others.
Instead of resting, he immediately joined volunteers to help his fellow refugees off boats, translating and assisting however he could.
“It feels really good to help, because I was in this situation too, so I can really feel for them,” says Walizada.
He stayed in Lesvos for five days before continuing his journey into his new life. Last week, he made it to Germany where he was reunited with his aunt, who fled Afghanistan a few years ago.