One day my knowledge will contribute greatly to Afghanistan!

Maaz Momond arrived in Belgium in 29 June 2015 to apply for political asylum, and now lives in Antwerp with his wife and three sons. Mamond believes that this programme will provide him with relevant knowledge to create change in his own country. He can’t wait to go home!

From Afghanistan to Antwerp, and back?

This is the first fact that many who don’t know the reality of war tend to neglect: you don’t leave until you really have to. Until leaving becomes a matter of survival. For two years, Maaz Mamond somehow managed to escape the Taliban. In war-torn Afghanistan, it meant carefully considering every step – the safest hours to arrive and leave his house, where to go and how to get there. But every day it was harder to believe that his efforts were enough to protect himself and his family.

The Taliban would target anyone who supported the government. If they could not reach this person, they would harm their relatives instead. Kidnapping and torture, followed by a solemn invitation for the person of interest to appear before their court, was the most common procedure.

The decision to leave Afghanistan came after the bombing of his children’s school and the killing of three brothers, who were his friends and nextdoor neighbours, just in front of his eyes. Unfortunately, bureaucracy doesn’t follow the rush of necessity. Mamond couldn’t wait for an answer to his U.S. visa application, and on 6 June 2015 fled the country to seek asylum in Belgium. What should be a 15-hour flight becomes a 23-day odyssey inside the world of human smuggling. “I am one of the lucky ones, who could afford documents, visas and ‘unexpected’ charges”, he says.

Still, being forced to leave behind the life he had was not so straightforward. In Afghanistan, Mamond had a good job with USAID, and was also dedicated to mobilizing young men in social and political engagement. He believed that access to education and understanding of societal issues could prepare a new generation of leaders. Better leaders. Above all, he had his family there. Like most Afghans, they all lived together, some 30 people, in the same house. They were part of each others’ daily lives, and supported one another in difficult times.

In Brussels, Mamond was taken into the Petit Chateau Reception Center for Asylum Seekers. He was back to square one, but this was not entirely new to him. Due to Afghanistan’s extensive history of war, Mamond was born in a Pakistani refugee camp during the Soviet-Afghan war, having only returned to his country in 2001 (after 9/11). War has been a constant presence in his life.

The difference now was that Mamond had a family of his own. Leaving his wife and children behind to apply for asylum was a strategy to protect them; however, one followed by a 5-month wait filled with uncertainty, fear and distress. It took another 11 months for his family to join him here. Meanwhile, Mamond would be constantly checking social media and the news, worried that something could have happened to his loved ones. Today he still does that.

Something else happens in situations like this. Asylum seekers commonly experience the loss of their social identities, which may be even more astounding when it happens in a collective scale. Far away from the world you used to know, your social network, titles, wealth or reputation suddenly don’t have the same relevance. Who you are becomes who you were.

To keep his mind sane, Mamond tried to see these circumstances as opportunities for self-improvement. He focused on getting an education he wouldn’t have access to in Afghanistan. “This master programme [at IOB] encourages me to meet my objectives”, he explains.

Coming from a country where, according to UNESCO, only 38.2% of the population are literate (the vast majority, men) Mamond believes that the Development Studies knowledge he is gaining will allow him to someday greatly contribute to Afghanistan.

'I would trade all the advantages of living in a developed country for the opportunity to live with those I love the most and serve my country. One day it will be safe to go back home: I will be able to survive there. I was born as a refugee. I have been living as a refugee. But I want to die in another condition: as a citizen. in my country, and in peace.'

One can only hope Mamond, and millions of other Afghan refugees can go back home to rebuild it sooner than they expect.

Interview by: Bruna do Rêgo Troccoli