Khasim, an Afghan migrant fleeing the land of terror in hopes of making it to the European Union, found himself stuck in Greece – the land of Philoxenia, the love of strangers – and hated it so much after being mistreated that he went home to the land of war.
He had walked 4,000 miles through Iran, Bulgaria and Serbia, eventually reaching Athens, where he was left to sell himself for sex in the capital’s gritty, grimy Omonia Square, full of other young migrant males doing the same and ducking attacks from Greeks who didn’t want them there.
“I did not have a place in Greece to sleep, and I did not have money to eat,” he said. “Italy, London, Germany, France — no problem. Just I want to go from f—— Greece,” Khasim wrote in one message said NBC News’ Saphora Smith.
She wrote of his plight and the circuitous journey to Greece and back home – where he said he was happy to see his family but regretted the return and that he wants to come back to the European Union, hopefully Germany, where his brother lives in Munich.
Before he went home, he wrote in a Facebook message shortly after NBC News met him in the summer of 2018 that, “Athens is so bad. If I do not go to Germany, I’ll kill myself.”
A gang of at least five men almost did that to him, sparking the press to give up on Greece and Europe and return.
Like some 70,000 other migrants and refugees who landed in Greece – most sent by human traffickers Turkey lets operate to rid their country of the hordes who came there escaping war and strife in the Middle East and other countries – Khasim only wanted a better life.
When the European Union closed its borders to them, and other countries reneged on promises to help take some of the overload off Greece, they were in limbo, left to seek asylum and with most penned up in detention centers and camps for two years or more.
That desperation turned to frustration and many were left to wander around Greece’s capital, usually clustering in Omonia with nothing to do, waiting for the next man to come by and offer money for sex, a shame so bad he didn’t want his last name used or his face shown.
Khasim, a former dentistry student, stuck to his hopes for a long time but, in his odd odyssey and sad circular journey to Greece and back to Afghanistan, he described the terror he felt last year when he was attacked, his jaw fractured and the gang leaving him bloodied in a back alley.
Greece is home to the notorious neo-nazi Golden Dawn party, all 15 of whose lawmakers are in the fourth year of a trial on charges of running a criminal gang and with hunting down and beating migrants in its goal to rid the country of those who aren’t of only pure Greek blood.
The beating woke up Khasim to give up his dream. He went to the International Organization for Migration which arranged for the Greek government and the EU to pay him $1,705 to return to Afghanistan’s capital of Kabul. “I told them I want to go home,” Khasim, now 21, said.
Going through the United Nations-operated Assisted Voluntary Return and Reintegration program was a big decision – he’d paid more than $11,000 of his family’s money to get to Europe, including payments to smugglers.
When NBC News met Khasim last year, he had already tried to leave the country four times using stolen or fake passports, but he kept getting caught but still tried again repeatedly, only to find when he went back to Afghanistan, he wanted to come back to Europe.
He said relatives don’t understand why he chose to return to a country where a resurgent Taliban was fighting U.S.-led NATO forces and the government.
“They ask, ‘why did you come back to Afghanistan, to no jobs,’” he said, explaining that his mother needs him to contribute to pay their rent and look after his younger siblings. “‘The life of people in Europe is better, there is no Taliban in Europe,’” he added.
His mother told him, as much as she missed him, that life could be better in the EU, if not in Greece. “If you work one month in Afghanistan, it’s 100 euros ($114), if you work in Europe its 1,000 euros ($1,140) or 700 euros ($797),” he said.
He’s saving money to pay smugglers again to get him to Europe, but will bypass Greece, the country where last year 33 million tourists paid for the privilege to see and stay a while
He is certain that he does not want to return to Greece. “My family will sell some gold so I can go again,” he said. “They say I must go again.”