South Asia

Kamran's story: Afghan teenager animates escape ordeal

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Media captionWatch Kamran Safi's animated film - Courtesy of Mediabox

After Kamran Safi's father was murdered by the Taliban in 2007, the teenager took the perilous journey from Afghanistan to Britain when they threatened to kill him too. He has now made an animated film about his ordeal, which has captivated millions around the world. He told the BBC's Mark Lobel his story.

The smile on 17-year-old Kamran's face sank when I asked him to recount the event that changed his life.

At first, he was reluctant to say anything.

"A long time ago I tried to forget everything. If you see my eyes, I swear I didn't sleep last night," he said at his new home in England.

Eventually he recalled how he nervously sat waiting with his mother for hours, at his family home in Jalalabad in eastern Afghanistan in 2007, waiting for news of his kidnapped father.

Image caption The film chronicling Kamran's life has been applauded around the world

Suddenly a siren blared and a vehicle raced into view.

Taliban militants deposited his father's dead body, covered in a blanket, on the road. They drove off as fast as they had arrived.

Kamran's father, a well-to-do luxury used-car salesman, had refused to hand over his savings to the Taliban and so they took him instead.

"I went crazy. I was crying, crying, crying," recalled Kamran, who was 13 at the time.

"A few days after, they called my mum. They threatened to kill me too. Because my father's money would be coming to me," he added.

"I wanted to stay and fight but my mother told me I had to go."

Kamran fled across the border to the tribal areas of north-west Pakistan but he was mistreated and beaten up by the family he lived with there.

So his mother paid an agent to smuggle him to safety.

Over the next year he travelled through Turkey, Greece, Italy and France, in the backs of freezing lorries and strangers' cars until finally, Kamran arrived in Britain.

He had lost contact with all his family and friends. He had nothing.

'The jungle'

Although his asylum application was rejected, fortunately for Kamran the British authorities said he could stay until he turned 18 and he was given the same opportunities as any British child in care.

He was taught English and sent to an animation workshop where he met artist Dan Richards.

"We went to work with 30 young boys from Iran, Afghanistan, Iraq and Palestine about their lives in what they call 'the jungle' in Calais," Mr Richards recalled.

"But the first person to be interviewed that morning was Kamran. He just popped up in front of everyone and told his story in two minutes. It was such a powerful story I thought that voice had to be heard."

Kamran was separated from the group to draw his own, personal story.

With Dan's help, he voiced it and together with his drawings, created an animated film that would travel the world.

It has been screened in America, Canada and the UK as part of Adobe Youth Voices and Human Rights Watch's "Youth Producing Change" film festival.

Festival programme manager Jennifer Nedbalsky says that around 30 million people have seen the film so far.

"Kamran's been really eager to help people understand the issues he faces as a refugee as well as show the immense gratitude for all the support he's been given," she added.

In New York, Kamran spoke on stage after his film's screening.

He appealed to the crowd to help change his country and rid it of terrorism.

"Many Americans understand my story," he told me, as members of the audience also had relatives who had died fighting the Taliban.

"Many people give me many blessings, you know," Kamran added, proudly.

'Tragic stories'

The film has been shown in hundreds of colleges and universities in the US to highlight the plight of refugee teenagers.

Image caption Kamran Safi wants to work on a new animated feature film

Schools in south-east England have used the film to highlight issues around bullying.

At Dunraven School in south London, students sat mesmerised as they watched Kamran's short film.

"I've never seen anything made quite like that before," said 18-year-old Rose.

"It deals with immigration and the pain of losing your family and constantly having to move round the world".

Teacher Phillip Dyas explained why his pupils had found it so special.

"They are familiar with texts like 'Waltz With Bashir' or 'Persepolis' - animated versions of difficult personal, tragic stories," he said.

"What made this unique was the sense of rawness. It had a believability that was in part based on the lack of technological wizardry."

Rose said it "was very brave of him to name the Taliban for fear that something might happen to him".

That fear now haunts Kamran as the Home Office said he will have to return to Afghanistan in August.

"If they see me in my country, they will straight away kill me, how they killed my family," Kamran said.

"I am scared, I don't want to go back," he added.

Kamran plans to appeal so that he can stay in the UK to continue his studies and work on an animated feature film about his country.

Dan Richards hopes Kamran will be able to extend his stay.

"Kamran's an ambassador for young, unaccompanied boys that come to countries like the UK," he said.

"With what he's learnt, he can represent them and give them a voice."

As Kamran's story continues, the success of his film means that many people around the world will also be interested in finding out what happens next.

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