Gulwali Passarlay was just 12 years old when he and his brother left Afghanistan's Nangahar province in 2006 to escape the Taliban.
The Taliban targeted him and his brother for recruitment. Fearful her sons might end up with the militant group, Passarlay’s mother sent them out of the country. What followed was a dangerous and traumatizing journey through the Middle East and Europe.
Passarlay was alone for much of the journey. Shortly after leaving Afghanistan, he and his brother were separated in Peshawar, Pakistan. Over the course of his year-long trip, Passarlay traveled by foot, car and boat across ten countries to reach the United Kingdom, he told The WorldPost, risking death and enduring prison multiple times along the way.
He eventually reached Britain, but went through five years of asylum processing.
"The system of asylum that I had to go through was just so many inquiries, so many talks and petition filings," Passarlay said. "I actually came to the point with the whole Home Office and asylum claim procedures that I wanted to take my own life, that's how bad things were."
Now a third-year politics student at the University of Manchester, in the U.K., Passarlay authored The Lightless Sky, a book documenting his journey.
He hopes that sharing his story will not only raise awareness of the plight of refugees, but also inspire volunteers to help address today’s crisis.
Almost 219,000 migrants and refugees entered Europe by sea this October alone, according to the U.N. Refugee Agency. That figure is roughly the same number of people who entered Europe by sea in the whole of 2014.
Europe has struggled to respond to the crisis, and EU nations have failed to achieve a comprehensive agreement on how to manage the surge in arrivals, spurring contentious international debate.
"With the current refugee crisis, we're not looking at any solutions, we're not showing any solidarity," Passarlay said. "It's all talk about costs, politics and policies, and it's about protecting borders rather than protecting people, and it's more on a political level rather than dealing with a human face."
"I've been actually losing hope in humanity recently," he added.
While Passarlay believes that the British government and many other European states have been ineffective and disappointing in providing solutions in the refugee crisis, he hopes that grassroots activism and popular action can change policy.
"Politicians will make decisions based on people's demands and people's voices," he said. "So the more people we have on the street, the more people arriving there in peace, the more people engaging with the issue and trying to understand it, that is what will get changed."
In September, Passarlay led a march in London welcoming refugees into the country and urging the U.K. government to take in more refugees than the 20,000 it pledged to resettle over a five-year period.
Human rights and migration groups, as well as some politicians in the nation, have criticized Britain for its meager response to the refugee crisis. As of September, only 216 Syrian refugees had qualified for the government’s official relocation plan.
In addition to calling for more action from the government, Passarlay has been engaged in volunteering to help refugees and migrants on the ground.
"There are huge convoys, movements of people going to Calais, going to Greece, going to the border of Hungary, taking food, supplies, medicine," he said. "Just normal people literally doing charity work and saying, 'Well, if the government is not doing it, let's do something about it.'"
This outpouring of support from ordinary people towards refugees gave the otherwise pessimistic Passarlay the sense that something can be done to shift fortunes in the refugee crisis.
"It was good to see the solidarity of people from across Europe, coming together to try to do something," he said. "I think it's ultimately the people who will bring the positive change."
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