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How a Vivid Drama Is Making Young People Think Again About Migration

immigration image

immigration imageKhost in Eastern Afghanistan is a province that has suffered from insecurity. There are few jobs, echoing the national unemployment average taken in 2013-2014 by the World Bank: if 1/5th of the labor force is unemployed, almost half of those who are unemployed are the youth.

This is why, after finishing high school with lower grades than he had hoped for, Mohammad Shahpoor began thinking his best chance for a bright future was to leave Afghanistan and take his chances with traffickers who promise a better life in Europe.

Mohammad is not alone. Afghans make up the second-largest group of new arrivals to Europe. The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) estimates that over 50,000 Afghans made the trip in 2015. “This was the time when many of my class fellows deserted the province and went to foreign countries for different reasons. They were sending their photos to me through social media and seeing these photos made me very eager of leave the country and go abroad,” Mohammad said.

However, before he left Khost he was approached by one of his friends who was responsible for conducting one of the United States Institute for Peace’s ‘One Village, A Thousand Voices’ (OVATV) listening circles in the province. Mohammad registered himself with the listening circle and started participating in weekly sessions while he waited for the call from the trafficker.

Listening circles are key for young people to come together, discuss the issues they hear in the radio program and support each other to make smart choices about their futures.

“After spending some time in the group, one day we listened to an episode about illegal immigration, which showed the real picture of illegal immigration from Afghanistan. When I listened to the episodes and the problems encountered during the trip, including one death, I was confused about the decision that I had made and began to question what the traffickers had said about the Europe trip being as easy as travelling from Kabul to Nangarhar,” Mohammad said.

The power of radio is its ability to paint a vivid picture in the listener’s mind, and that is something the producers and script writers of OVATV take very seriously. “For this episode, we tried to recreate as realistic a scene as possible in which the ship and all passengers including children were in the water,” explained an OVATV scriptwriter who went on to say, “we had sound effects of children and youth crying and screaming while the ship disappeared under water.” It was certainly effective as Mohammed describes how he felt when he listened. “This scene was exactly as if I am on the ship, too, and I am being drowned. Believe me, when I went home, I was imagining the scene even in sleeping,” he said.

“Hearing the reality on the radio made me realize that this was not the kind of life I wanted to live through… I will never forget what I heard on the OVATV radio series.”

After hearing the program and discussing the issues related to immigration with other young people in the listening circle, Mohammad decided to cancel his trip and terminate the deal with the traffickers. Although he lost $500 he is happy he chose to stay in Afghanistan and is now studying economics at the University of Khost. OVATV continues to include storylines linked with immigration in its radio programs with the hope that by sensitizing and educating the youth on the dangers and risks that come with migration, the program can help other young people to make positive and informed choices about their future.

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