Reza Case Study

Why did Reza flee his home in Afghanistan? Use these sources to investigate Reza's story and determine whether it could be considered an example of removal today.

Be the Journalist

How will you tell Reza’s story?

  1. Who is Reza? (Describe what you know about him.)
  2. What happened to Reza and his family?
  3. When did Reza last see his parents?
  4. Challenge Question
  5. What is/are the force(s) of removal in this story?

Migrant Children, Arriving Alone and Frightened

Katrin Bennhold

New York Times

October 28, 2015

PASSAU, Germany:

Reza Mohammadi lost his parents in a forest in Macedonia. Or Serbia. He does not remember. What he does remember is that it was raining: Thick mud clung to his shoes and weighed down his 7-year-old legs.

His family had fled from Afghanistan to Iran, then to Turkey. They had boarded a rubber boat to Greece and were rescued by the coast guard before moving on, mostly by foot, toward Germany.

That rainy night near the Macedonian-Serbian border, Reza and his mother, father and two sisters were walking in a group of about two dozen, he recalled. When he realized that his family was no longer behind him, he sat down on a tree stump and waited. There was a commotion farther down the path. Then a shadow emerged from the trees.

“What are you doing?” a man whispered in Dari.

“I am waiting for my parents,” Reza replied.

The man was from Herat Province in western Afghanistan, like Reza’s family. He said the forest was full of police officers. They had arrested several families in the back. It was not safe to stay. The boy took his hand and ran.

A small child with large hazel eyes and an earnest face, Reza arrived in Passau on Dec. 29. City officials believe he is the youngest refugee to make it to this Bavarian border town on his own.

“Is this Germany?” he reportedly asked a translator in the first of many interviews that helped piece together his story. Then: “Please, I want to call my mom.”

Ten months later, sitting on his neatly made bed in a children’s home run by Roman Catholic nuns, he retold the story of his journey in near-fluent German, only once checking the small yellow dictionary he now carries with him: how he was robbed of the money his mother had put in his pocket for emergencies; how he watched the police chase other children; how he finally made contact with his parents, now back in Iran, only to lose touch with them again a month ago.

Reza’s story is unusual because of his age. But it illuminates a quiet corner of Europe’s migrant crisis: In the human tide washing up on the Continent, tens of thousands are children and teenagers who arrive on their own.

Last year, more than 23,000 unaccompanied minors applied for asylum in the 28 member countries of the European Union, according to the United Nations. That was before the number of refugees surged this year. By now, 30,000 are estimated to live in Germany alone.

Two dozen psychological profiles of recent arrivals, compiled by the authorities and seen by The New York Times, reveal patterns: Many of Europe’s new mystery children are boys ages 14 to 17, sent by families too poor to pay smugglers for more than a single journey. Some lost their parents to war or murder at home. Others, like Reza, were separated from them in the chaos along the way.

Reza was taken to his new home within a day of his arrival and has been sharing a room with a German boy. Now 8, he attends a regular primary school.

He is a good student. The crayons in his pencil case are neatly organized by color. “Already more German than some Germans,” a caregiver joked.

Reza has made progress, his caregiver said. Sometimes he falls asleep at night without crying. It was even better when he spoke to his mother every week. But last month, they lost contact.

Reza said he hoped that meant she was on her way. “She said she would come,” he said. “She promised.”