New to the Parish: ‘I have no idea if my family are still alive’
Having fled the Taliban aged 17, Abdul Khan was abandoned on O’Connell Street in Dublin, alone, frightened and without a word of English
Abdul Khan: ‘I have a great foster family. My English is good. I love it here.’ Photograph: Sara Freund
Abdul Khan. Arrived from Pakistan, 2012
Abdul Khan was 17 on the rainy night he arrived in Ireland. That night three years ago he spent more than 12 hours alone, waiting for the man who had brought him from Pakistan with promises of a better life in Europe.
“I spent that whole night wandering around Dublin,” he says. “I had no idea what to do. I kept walking back to the same place where he’d told me to stay. But he never came back.”
Earlier that day, he had travelled from his home in the city of Peshawar in northwest Pakistan with a contact who had offered to help him seek asylum abroad.
They took a bus from the airport in to Dublin city centre where the man bought him some new clothes and handed him money.
“He told me, ‘Give me your passport, I’ll come back in a minute’. It was the end of July but it was cold. It rained all night. I can remember the water coming down over O’Connell Street. I was very scared. I cried through the night.”
Eventually, the teenager built up the courage to ask for help. He spoke three languages – Urdu, Pashto and Punjabi – but no English. He could neither read nor write. “I kept changing the language, hoping someone could speak one of them. But I was speaking a foreign language, so people just ignored me.”
Eventually he found a man from Bangladesh who spoke Urdu and who directed him towards the Department of Justice, where he explained, through an interpreter, why he had come to Ireland.
“There were terrorist attacks, suicide bombers. The Taliban started targeting me. I was a young man and they said, ‘You need to join us.’ ”
He says local Taliban groups “brainwashed” many of his peers with promises of a life in paradise.
“They needed young boys, 16-20 years old. They send them to war to kill innocent people. I had two choices: one was to die and the other was to join them. I didn’t agree with them so I left.”
As a child, he never went to school in Pakistan. He attended the local Islamic institute, where he learned to pray. He left Peshawar without telling his parents or younger brother. Three years later, he has had no contact with his family.
“I don’t know where they are now. I have no idea if they’re still alive or not.”
Eventually he was sent to live in a home for unaccompanied underage migrants. He began taking English classes through the Separated Children’s Service and met a woman called Bernie, who taught him to read and write.
After four months, he moved to live with an Irish foster family in Lucan. He quickly settled into life with his foster parents, Vivian and Michael, and their four sons, and began secondary school at Marino College in Dublin.
“I was studying with Irish students, and English was their first language. When I was talking, I had to think because I spoke three languages and I’d have to translate into English.”
He found his studies stressful and began to suffer from depression. One day on the way home from school, he felt a sharp pain in his side. The next day he was rushed into surgery suffering from a collapsed lung. He spent one month in St James’s Hospital and four months in recovery.
When he turned 18, the teenager was forced to spend six months living in a direct provision centre while he waited for his refugee status to be approved. Life in the centre was tough, and he was relieved when his foster family invited him back once he had received his papers.
He says he is very happy living in Ireland. However, he has experienced racism. Last year he was walking through St Stephen’s Green when a group of young men approached him and punched him in the face. Another time he was robbed at knifepoint.
However, his outlook for the future is one of pure optimism.
“I have a great foster family. My English is good. I love it here.” He beams as he adds that he’s even learned a few words as Gaeilge.
“Conas atá tú? Tá mé go maith. Cá bhfuil tú ag dul?” he says with delight.
He is now looking for work. He recently took a cabin crew course in Dublin Airport. He wants to find his family but doesn’t plan to go back to Pakistan in the near future. “I made that journey in my past, so to be honest I don’t want to go back to those things. Now I want to think about my future.”
- We would like to hear from people who have moved to Ireland in the past five years. To get involved, email firstname.lastname@example.org