Former Afghan Refugee Idris Naik: "I told them to leave me to die"
Updated: Dec 23, 2020
The first time I spoke to Idris Naik was last October, sitting in the back of his car during an Uber ride. It all started with the typical small talk, but as our conversation went on, I discovered I was talking to a former Afghan refugee who, in 2002, travelled all the way from Afghanistan to the United Kingdom during a seven month journey that almost cost him his life.
Naik was born in the city of Kabul, Afghanistan, almost four decades ago. “I was a really happy kid, unaware of what was going on around me,” he recalls. However, growing up as the fifth child of 11 siblings in times of war, he didn’t take long to realise the struggles his family was going through.
At 16, he emigrated to Pakistan on his own to escape from the Taliban regime and awful conflict his country was, and still is, engulfed in. “Afghanistan was extremely dangerous. If you didn’t respect the strict rules of the Taliban, they would kill you,” he says.
Things weren’t easy in Pakistan either, as he jumped from one extremely underpaid job to another. When he turned 23, he decided to try his luck in Europe. “My first step was to reach Turkey, but I never thought it would be so difficult,” he admits. In March 2002, he began the journey that completely turned his life around.
It took him and the other refugees he was travelling with 60 hours to cross the Turkish border by foot from Iran, through the snowy and icy-cold Zagros mountains. “I was almost dying from dehydration and couldn’t walk anymore. I told them to leave me to die,” he recalls.
But on the brink of desperation, Idris managed to survive by drinking the melted dirty water from the snow. “If you were almost dying, what would you do?” he asks me. “I did what I had to do to survive.”
Everything seemed to get better when he finally made it to Istanbul, but Turkey wasn’t his final destination. After he had made some money, he began yet another precarious expedition to Greece across the Aegean Sea, in nothing more than a plastic boat. “We didn’t think we were going to make it, but we had nothing to lose.”
“In Greece, we were homeless and washed ourselves in a fountain,” he tells me, laughing it off. He was desperate to leave, so when a smuggler offered to take him to Paris inside the trunk of a car, he took the chance even if he had to give him all he had.
In France, he headed to Sangatte, a refugee camp near the northern border with England. “I had given everything to those smugglers. It was my only choice,” he recalls. What he found on his arrival was an unsustainable, unsafe and dirty camp, or as it is popularly known, ‘The Jungle’. Sangatte was shut down just a few months after Naik smuggled himself through the Eurotunnel. “I did it before security got stricter,” he says. “Others didn’t have the same luck.”
At dawn on the 3 October 2002, Naik reached his desired destination, Britain, and claimed asylum. He has been living in London for almost 18 years now and does not plan on leaving his flatshare in Notting Hill any time soon. “Afghanistan is more unstable and dangerous than ever. I wouldn’t want to go back there,” he says. “It took me years of sacrifice to get to where I am now, London is my home.”