Samira, who is 48-years-old, worked in her country of Afghanistan for many years, supporting women to survive and recover from domestic violence. It was a tough job, but Samira loved her work - particularly because she is a survivor of gender-based violence herself. 

Illustration of Samira and her children fleeing from Afghanistan
As a single mother working to champion women's rights, Samira's situation in Afghanistan was dire and she feared for her family's safety.
Photo: Cartoonbase for the IRC

Even before the change of power in Afghanistan, Samira was searching frantically for an escape route from the country. “I heard about smugglers, that they can help,” she explains. She made some enquiries with them and started saving money to pay for the journey. However, Samira heard some terrifying stories about people’s experiences along the route. She feared being trafficked or - worse still - drowning in the Mediterranean Sea like the sister of her friend. Samira decided that risking her life on this route was not the way to save her family. “I prefer to die inside Afghanistan, not in the water outside,” she says. 

Illustration of Samira warily looking at smugglers to get her family out of Afghanistan
Looking for an escape route from Afghanistan, Samira considered smugglers but heard terrifying stories from people who had attempted this previously. She feared being trafficked or - worse still - drowning in the Mediterranean Sea.
Photo: Cartoonbase for the IRC

She had also heard that the journey from Afghanistan into neighbouring Pakistan or Iran was incredibly dangerous. Her friends and family who made it into these countries still do not feel safe, and have few prospects to rebuild their lives. “I’m worried about all of them,” admits Samira.

While Samira’s situation in Afghanistan was already dire, the events of August 15th 2021 took things from bad to worse. As a single mother working in pursuit of women’s rights and a member of an ethnic minority group, she had grave fears for her family’s safety. “I just wanted to get out of Afghanistan,” she said, “it didn’t matter where to”.

I just wanted to get out of Afghanistan. It didn’t matter where to.

One day, Samira finally received the news she had been waiting for - Germany would offer her, and her children, humanitarian admission visas. And after an agonising three-month wait, they finally made it onto a flight out of Kabul.

Illustration of Samira and her children receiving visas to go to Germany
Thanks to Germany's humanitarian admission visas, Samira and her children were able to leave Afghanistan to build a new life in Europe.
Photo: Cartoonbase for the IRC

“When I left Afghanistan, I felt so thankful,” says Samira. “The last time we saw Kabul from above, we cried. It’s strange. We were safe, but we were not happy.”

Samira has been in Germany for two years with her son and daughter - now aged 17 and 23 - and their lives have been transformed. They are all learning German and her children have made new friends at school. But, for Samira, it’s the cosmopolitan lifestyle that makes her feel at ease in her new home. “In Afghanistan, I was always under the lens,” she says. “She’s wearing this. She’s wearing that. Here I can wear whatever I want. I feel so comfortable”. 

And while it’s taken her a while to get to grips with Germany’s administrative systems and processes, there’s one that Samira is particularly fond of: “The garbage system is so organised,” she laughs, “everything has its exact place!”. If her son fails to put things in the right bin, Samira will quickly correct him, insisting he “should be like a German!”.

But it hasn’t all been smooth sailing for Samira’s family. When they first arrived in Germany, they had to share a single room in a cramped house alongside 10 other families. “It was so difficult when my son wanted to study, my daughter wanted to sleep,” she says. Fortunately, after 10 months, the German authorities granted the family an apartment of their own. There’s still only one bedroom, but Samira feels it’s a step in the right direction.

Like so many other refugees, the experience of fleeing her home took a severe toll on Samira’s mental health. Fortunately she was able to access a psychotherapist in Germany, who supported her to begin rebuilding her life and integrating into her new community. This proved to be invaluable to Samira, who insists that it’s vital to provide mental health support to refugees - many of whom have suffered the most terrible traumas. 

While she misses her family and the culture of Afghanistan, Samira is trying to focus on the future. Her priority is learning German and finding a job so she can help women to recover from gender-based violence - a passion that gave her real purpose in Afghanistan. “It sounds romantic,” she says, “but in Kabul the sky was so light and blue. Every day I would look up at the sky and see my goal, then start my work. I miss my job so much.” Samira continues, “We are not coming here to sit down or sleep. We should build our future by being active, learning the language, and helping the community”.

We are not coming here to sit down or sleep. We should build our future by being active, learning the language, and helping the community

As one of the lucky ones able to safely leave Afghanistan, Samira has a strong message for EU leaders:

“Nobody is happy to leave their country. But when people are seeking help, we should be responsible for them. 

“I know that European countries cannot accept all the refugees, but they can at least welcome some of the most vulnerable people.”

To learn more about the IRC’s work advocating on this subject, read our explainer article What are safe pathways to protection? and 7 things to know about refugee resettlement in the EU.