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“I Left My Daughter With a Human Trafficker”

June 28, 2019
Aida Ghajar
6 min read
Mohsen originally began his journey with his four-year-old daughter, but decided to send her on ahead to Germany and join her there later
Mohsen originally began his journey with his four-year-old daughter, but decided to send her on ahead to Germany and join her there later

“I felt like I would die when the trafficker took my daughter. He arrived in the middle of the night, and as he took her away I was numb with shock. 

“Afterwards, I couldn’t believe what I had done. I had no evidence that anyone had taken my child. I had no way of finding her if she disappeared.

“I regretted my decision immediately, but it was already too late. I was afraid that if I called the trafficker, he would kidnap her. We were both doing something illegal. 

“I had no option but to trust him.”

Mohsen originally began his journey with his four-year-old daughter, but decided to send her on ahead to Germany and join her there later. 


It was the first time I had heard such a story, though I later learned that the separation of parents and young children is not uncommon among refugee families.

Parents usually pay around €5,000 (US$5,700) for the service. A trafficker finds a European family to travel with the child and deliver them to a trusted contact agreed in advance.

Payment is normally made by a third person, after the children have been successfully relocated.    

A key motive for doing this is to give the parents a better chance of being admitted as asylum seekers, as a family member is already in the country.

This was Mohsen’s hope. After sending his daughter to Germany, he planned to meet her there as soon as possible. 


Fleeing Iran for Greece

The first time I met Mohsen was at Omonia Square in Athens. It was 4am, and I was searching for Iranian asylum seekers to interview when I spotted a friend leaving a nightclub. Mohsen was with him and we began to talk.

He told me about his daughter and I was shocked by the story.

“Do you know anything about the family who took her?” I asked.

“No, I know nothing about them,” he replied. 

“Where is your daughter now?”

“In a refugee camp in Germany. My brother collected her from the woman who took her there. He took my daughter to the camp and told the officials she was an asylum seeker, but no one would believe him at first.” 

He showed me a photograph of his daughter on his phone. I had so many questions. What if she had never reached her destination? What if she had been abused? How can we ever know what really happened to her?

Mohsen was a single father living with his only child in Iran. He had a regular office job, and for 14 years he traveled from the Tehran suburbs to the city for work. 

“After the protests in 2017, I had some problems at my workplace and had to leave the country,” he told me.

He traveled to Turkey with his daughter and then made it to Greece by land. 

“There was a very wide river on the way and my daughter was afraid and began crying. We had to keep her calm to avoid being detected by the border patrols.” 

“Only Luck Kept Me Alive”

Mohsen described the night he sent his daughter away. 

“I didn’t know what to expect. The traffickers don’t tell you too much about the details of their work. They came after midnight in a red Audi, and a lady who looked Greek took her. 

“In Athens, there are only two Afghan human traffickers who do child trafficking, and anybody who wants to relocate children works with them. 

“The next day, my brother went to collect my daughter from the same lady. The lady did not want to release her before the money was paid.

“They are always afraid that you’ll call the police on them or steal their money. But I went crazy and refused to release the money until my brother confirmed he had my daughter.

“When that was confirmed, I paid them as agreed.”

Mohsen then attempted to fly to Germany by using a fake French ID, but each time the airport police stopped him. 

He eventually decided to pay a trafficker €5000 (US$5,700) to get him to Germany by bus. The journey turned out to be so dangerous that he says it was lucky he survived. 

He traveled inside the bus engine, in a small space less than 0.5m² and 40cm deep. He had to hold onto the axles to avoid hitting the hot surface below. 

If his hands had slipped, he said, “only luck” would have kept him alive. 


“Worse Than a Grave”

Mohsen was in the bus engine for four days with no food or water. He was also naked, to ensure his clothes did not get caught in the axles. 

“I had to find my way through the electrical cables to climb into the space, which is always very hot from the engine’s heat. If I lost control even for a second, I could get crushed in the axles. There was no protection.

“The axles were spinning and getting hotter all the time. When the bus was on the move, I had to hang above the pipes and stay still. I damaged three of my fingers because of that. 

“The trafficker told me the driver knew I was hiding in there, but I found out later that was a lie.” 

The trafficker gave Mohsen a black piece of cardboard to hold so he would not be detected by police scanners when the bus stopped. So Mohsen had to carry this as well as hang onto the pipes.

“I was right above the shock absorbers and had to tolerate terrible bumps the whole way. Often I thought I would fall. But I had no option but to cling on.”

The bus stopped every two hours, which made the situation worse.

“When the bus stopped, they opened the storage compartment and my space would shrink to about 30cm. I couldn’t breathe. It felt worse than a grave. 

“Even when the bus wasn’t moving, I couldn’t let go of the pipes since the axles were still very hot. Each stop invited even more heat to that area.”


Guilt and Regret

Mohsen eventually made it to Germany. But if he had the chance to do it all again, he said he would not. 

“I’m still living with that guilt. If I did it again, we would either stay in Greece or leave there together for a better place.

But remaining in Greece would have been very hard, he added. “Greece’s economic situation is so poor that I didn’t have any hopes for the future. I aged so many years while we were there, and lost 30kg in weight.”

Although both Mohsen and his daughter are now in Germany, he can only visit her in the children’s camp twice a week. When he takes her out, she must be back within a few hours. 

The camp is dedicated to orphans and children with abusive parents. When he visited her there for the first time, she did not believe at first that he was her father. 

“I was so skinny that she didn’t even recognize me. She said, ‘This is not my dad.’ But I showed the camp officials photos of us together, so they eventually believed me.”

His daughter has already forgotten the Persian language and speaks only German. But she has her own room in the camp and attends school. Mohsen will be able to collect her at the end of the school year. 

The camp officials have criticized him for letting his daughter travel alone, he admitted. 

“They could not understand how I let her go on such a horrible journey with a trafficker. But now I have thought about it, I think they are right.”


Read other articles in Aida Ghajar's series about human trafficking and Iranian refugees and asylum seekers: 


Living Among Traffickers Has Consequences

The Love of my Child kept me Alive in the Mountains of Iran and Turkey

Prison, Asylum and a Family Torn Apart




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