"Do you want my autograph? It will be worth a lot"

Yunes is a football fan - and a potential professional footballer. Self-confidence is not a problem for the 12-year-old boy who fled Afghanistan with his family.
 
 

Christiano Ronaldo and Real Madrid are the first two things, Yunes mentions, when you start a conversation with him. He is a huge fan of both and one of the only things he has brought with him from his home country Afghanistan is a Real Madrid shirt. And just like the idol Ronaldo, self-confidence is not lacking in 12-year-old Yunes.

"I'm really good at playing football. I’m always being picked first, when we are making teams in the schoolyard. Do you want my autograph? It will be worth a lot when I become a professional footballer," says Yunes.

Worked as an interpreter

However, it is not only on the football field, but also in the classroom that Yunes is shows his worth.

"We have been with other Afghans on the trip. I have repeatedly acted as a translator to English for the group when we came places where we couldn’t talk to people," says Yunes, who is seen on the picture with his 8 year old younger brother. 

Afraid of the Taliban

Yunes' mother says she is very proud of Yunes. But having talents both with a football and a pencil is not necessarily enough to live a decent life.

"We have lived in Iran, and it's really hard for Afghans because we are treated very badly. The only place Yunes could assert himself was on the football field. But it wasn’t a dignified life for my children. Therefore we went back to Afghanistan, but it wasn’t any better. I was seriously worried that my boys would be recruited by the Taliban one day, as I've seen it happen to many other young boys. We have fled for their sake," says Yunes' mother of 32 years, who does not wish to be named.

The children had to be carried

The family travelled with a group of Afghans they met along the route. It has been an invaluable psychological support to have each other on the grueling trip. But despite this support, the journey has been enormously exhausting.

"Some of my children had to be carried over the mountains of Iran and Turkey, and it is very hard, because you can hardly walk the next day - but you have to, because there is no chance of turning back. Several of the mountains were covered in snow, and some days we had to walk 16 hours in a row, but the only thing, I could think of was getting my children to safety. I have cried several times after they had fallen asleep and in many ways I do not understand that we are still alive," says Yunes' mother, who have three boys, of whom Yunes is the oldest.

Threatened with guns

The journey through Iran and Turkey was the toughest physically, but after fighting their way through Turkey, the family had to take the dangerous trip in a crowded rubber boat across the Aegean Sea.

"When we finally got the chance to get in the boats, we accepted to be too many onboard. But we did not really have a choice, since the smugglers threatened us with their guns. We tried 4-5 times, after we had come to the coast of Turkey. Several times we were stopped by Turkish police and had to spend the night in the woods. When we finally got on the sea, the boat punctured and we were close to drowning. I feared for my children's lives. I could not bear if they had to die; now we finally had fled so they could get a better future. But we were luckily rescued by the coast guard," says Yunes' mother.

The Afghans were sailed to the Greek island of Chios, where they stayed overnight one night before they took the ferry to Athens.

"We are very happy that we have arrived here. We have made this trip for our children's sake; for them not to be Talibans and so they can get an education and a future," says Yunes' mother.