For 14 years Farhad did not see much beyond the high walls of his orphanage in Haret, Afghanistan. He was one of more than 30 boys who suffered abuse at the hands of the adults who ran the place.
“There was a wall all around the orphanage, and I could not see outside. I could only see the sky. When they took us out at night they would drive us in a van which had blacked out windows, so we could not see outside the van.”
Farhad is a Hazara, a Shia Muslim minority discriminated and persecuted in Afghanistan. He does not know where he was born. He grew up amid discrimination, insults, beatings, and forced labor. From dawn till dusk, he and the other boys spent hours separating seeds from shell nuts and doing other chores such as cleaning rooms and toilets.
From a young age Farhad was forced into the practice of bacha bazi (playing with boys), where boys are made to dance in female clothes for male audiences and are often sexually exploited. “When we danced they would come and touch us. We would cry and scream. Then they would beat us and push us back,” he said adding that they often danced up to three nights a week for as long as two hours at each party.
Dancing was not an option. Whenever he refused, he was severely punished.
“I was really sick and tired of dancing. Whenever we refused to go, they would beat us all over our body. They didn’t care. Once, when I refused to go, they burned me. They took a knife, heated it in a propane gas stove and then put it on my arm and foot. After that, I couldn’t walk for one or two weeks. I still have the scars.”
Tired of the abuse, he considered suicide. After one of his many beatings, a woman who worked at the orphanage revealed that he had an aunt who lived abroad. With the help of another employee who took pity on him, he traced her through social media. Hoping that she was indeed his relative, he introduced himself and told her his story. Shocked by the revelation that her nephew was still alive, she arranged for him to be rescued and smuggled out of the country.
“One night, when I was dancing, there was a guy looking at me strangely, and I saw him pay money to the man who had taken me there to dance. After I finished dancing, the guy took me to a room. I was scared. I was crying a lot. I didn’t know what he wanted to do with me.”
The stranger showed him a photo of his aunt, and rushed him out of the party and onto a bus where they both traveled to Kabul. After getting him a passport and an exit permit, Farhad was told he needed to travel by himself to India and from there to Malaysia where he could request asylum. He left in November 2014.
He spent one week in India before traveling to Malaysia, where his application for refugee status was rejected by UNHCR. He came to Asylum Access Malaysia in April 2016 after the organization that initially helped him referred his case for an appeal.
The rejection was a huge blow to his confidence and Farhad felt hopeless, terrified about the prospect of being deported to Afghanistan where he endured so much abuse.
Although illegal under Afghan law, the practice of bacha bazi, has increased in recent years and reports show that young boys engaged in such practice are at risk of sexual abuse by the Taliban and other armed groups and actors. The police are often complicit. As an underage Hazara boy without relatives who could protect him, Farhad’s life would be in danger if he returns to his country.
With Asylum Access’s intervention, he filed an appeal. After several rounds of interviews and over three years of waiting, his case has been successfully resolved and Farhad will soon resettle to a third country, where he will meet his mother’s sister, the woman he found thanks to technology and with the help of a generous man Farhad believes shares a similar story of persecution, abuse and exploitation.
“I believe Asylum Access gave me a new life because I was really tired of life. I was hopeless. I had to wait three months and then another three months, and another three months but now everything is good. I’m happy. My life has changed now and because of the help they gave me I want them to know they have changed my life and I will never forget this. I don’t know how to thank them any more. I can just say this word [thanks] and I hope they can understand how thankful I am.”
Although he says he will miss the friends he made in Malaysia, Farhad is counting the days until he moves abroad where he plans to continue his studies and eventually open a restaurant business.
When asked about his dreams, he replied with two simple words: “Freedom and family.”
To protect the privacy of our refugee partners, names have been changed in this story.
Written by AAM Policy Advocate Federico Rodriguez