When we talk about globalization, it doesn’t only mean the flow of goods and money, but also the movement of people. While there have been trade agreements to facilitate the first, there’s very little to address the latter.

Worldwide there are 244 million people living in places that are not their home countries, the United Nations reported earlier this year, including 20 million refugees.

The number of asylum seekers to the European Union quadrupled in just three years, from about 300,000 in 2012 to more 1.3 million for 2015.

When the Schengen Agreement was signed 31 years ago, the intent was to get rid of physical barriers and eliminate border controls among countries.

But in 2015, with the arrival of a million people seeking international protection, limited controls in several countries were temporarily re-imposed as a measure of what they called “last resort.”

That September, Germany, the intended destination for the majority of asylum-seekers, announced it would re-introduce border checks with Austria. Officials cited the record number of refugees stretching the system to a breaking point as the reason.

The next day, Austria said it would start border controls with Slovenia.

Last November, Norway, which is part of the Schengen zone but not the EU, also introduced border checks at popular land crossings with Sweden and said all ferry arrivals from Sweden, Denmark and Germany would be subject to checks by officials, Business Insider reported.

In October 2015, Austria announced the construction of a fence — the first border to separate countries that are both in the Schengen zone. Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, European countries have built or started 1,200 km of fencing at a cost of at least 500 million euros, a Reuters analysis of public data shows. That distance is almost 40 percent of the length of the border between the United States and Mexico.


What Hamed misses most about Afghanistan is Nowruz, the New Year celebration filled with family feasts. Kabuli Palaw doesn’t taste the same in Germany. The meat just isn’t as juicy, the nuts are not as crunchy.

“First, you miss your family. Then you miss your country,” says Hamed, who has fled Afghanistan twice in his 32 years. His first escape was to Iran, when he was 13, during the Soviet–Afghan War.

“I was born in war, I grew up in war,” he says.

Today he is among the 2.7 million Afghanis who fled their country in 2015.

Like many of those displaced, Hamed and his family, who were scattered between Pakistan and Iran, yearned to return to Kabul.

After seven years of living in Tehran, Hamed says he was cautiously optimistic when in 2008 he went back home. It was Afghan president Hamid Karzai’s second term in office.

Now married, he was eager to show his son Arman and daughter Armita the city he was born in.
“All people have a dream that one day they can go back to their own country.”

His English language skills landed Hamed a translator and security officer job for the United States Agency for International Development. It was a good position but his work with foreigners made him a target. Although the Taliban no longer ran Kabul, he says there were still people in the city sympathetic to their fight.

He received strange phone calls in Pashto from men that accused him of being a traitor. He ignored them at first, but in February 2011, on a trip to Jalalabad to pick up a foreign colleague, Hamed learned that the threat was very real.

Afghan security reassured him the road to the town on the border with Pakistan was safe. When he and Abhaz, the driver, came upon a pile of rocks, he says, they thought they had just fallen off a truck.

“The driver stopped to move the rocks…,” Hamed says, “then I heard TAAAK!”

When Hamed looked out, he saw Abhaz slumped over and bleeding. He jumped out of the van to help his friend. As he took Abhaz’s limp hand, he heard a second shot as a bullet ripped through his leg. He managed to scramble back into the car. The last thing he remembers is a gunfight between the Afghan army and the Taliban.

When he left the hospital two months later, he decided to leave his country once again.

“The Taliban was coming and threatening us. ‘If you don’t work with us, we kill you and your family.’” Hamed says. “I decided to go back to Iran.”

But life in Iran for an Afghan refugee is not easy, he says. Afghanis aren’t officially recognized and simple things like sending their kids to school or obtaining a driver’s license are impossible.
Without legal status, Hamed was always at risk of being deported.

When Europe opened its borders in the summer of 2015, Hamed, like many others, decided he would risk one last escape.

“I decided in one week that I was leaving Iran.” For $6,000 USD, Hamed joined the first wave of migrants and refugees attempting to reach European shores. His journey took him from Tehran to Barzagan. Then smugglers led him and 40 others over the mountains into Turkey, where he later boarded a boat to the island of Lesbos in Greece.

In October 2015, Hamed arrived in Berlin, where he reported to a local police station. From there, he was transferred by taxi with 15 others to an area refugee camp. Within 12 hours, he went through the initial asylum-application process and in eight months he had his own dormitory.

“I was happy that we had a common kitchen and me and my neighbors were able to cook our national food and invite guests,” he says.

On October 31 2016, Hamed has an appointment he hopes will result in his ability to remain in Germany.


In 2015, there were more than 76 million immigrants in all of Europe, according to the UN, up from 56 million in 2000. The UN defines immigrants as people living in a country different from the country they were born.

The number of people crossing just into the European Union without permission jumped from less than 80,000 people in 2012 to nearly 2 million last year, according to Frontex.

And just as the number of those coming rose, so did the share that died along the journey. In 2015 alone, almost 4,000 people died in the Mediterranean — 432 of them in October, the month Hamed came on a boat.

Nearly a third of the Afghan migrants arriving in Green were children, another third were women and 40 percent were men, most of them feeling war and violence.

They used their savings, sold what they could or borrowed money from friends and family to pay for the trip. A few managed to work to pay their way. The journey was not without challenges, many were robbed, assaulted, a few even got shot and a fourth of them got separated from their family.

They spent an average of 52 days on their journey to Europe and 15 percent of those interviewed by United Nations workers earlier this year shared Hamed’s story: they were already living in Iran and came to Europe via Turkey and Greece.

Here is the story of Hamed’s journey.

The large numbers of asylum-seekers arriving in Germany have created major challenges on agencies at all levels of government. Given that there was no German-wide approach for managing the issue, the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees created a new integrated system to improve the process. Here how it’s supposed to work today:


Along with increasing numbers of people moving, there has come additional scrutiny, fences, surveillance technology and border guards — all of which some argue make it harder for people to make their asylum claims.

“Rights groups have documented reports of border officials beating, abusing or robbing migrants and refugees before dumping them back where they came from. This approach, known as push back, has become an intrinsic feature of Europe’s external boarders, according to Amnesty International”, says Reuters.

Technology has made it easier for people to move, with people sharing best practices and tips via social media. Families are able to stay in touch across continents, but are people really more free to move today?

Shokufeh Majidi, an Iranian doctorate candidate who moved to Germany three years ago, talks about the challenges her parents are facing to even get an appointment for a visa to travel from Iran to be at their daughter’s wedding in December, even when they’ve visited in the past without any issues.

This project was collaboratively created by Jérôme Hourdeaux (, Inga Lindarenka (34Mag), Monisha Caroline Martins (@monishamartins), Harlo Holmes (@harlo), Perla Trevizo (@perla_Trevizo), Katerina Michailidi, Catherine Sotirakou (@catherinesot), Jordan Schneider (@jordanbs), Susanne Braun (@susannebraun85) and Hamed Hoseini at the workshop „Traces of movement and the question of human rights“, facilitated by Claudia Núñez ((@nunezcla) and Cristina Pombo (@CristinaLPombo).

The workshop took place at the TACIT FUTURES conference hosted by Berliner Gazette in 2016.

Photos by Norman Posselt and Yannis Kemmos. The content of this project is licensed under Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 4.0.

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