I first ran into Ghorban in Paris in 2010 when he was 12 years old, and was sleeping in the street. I saw a kid who was lost, who needed to be taken by the hand, but this little guy had just traveled 12,000 kilometers (7,500 miles) as an illegal migrant, starting in Afghanistan where he was born.
I was flabbergasted. Alone he had coped with fear and faced the dangers of the migrant routes. I had been along such routes in Africa, the Middle East and the Mediterranean, and I knew just how tough they were. The survivors have endured ordeals which adults rarely encounter in the course of their lives.
In 2010, there were approximately 4000 unaccompanied children in France, and now it is estimated that there are five times as many. How do children who have lived through these adult experiences go on to build their own lives? How do they develop their own identity? How much of the past remains with them in their new cultural environment ?
Ghorban was eager to tell his story, and we decided to tell it together. I had got to know him, and we trusted one another.
A few weeks after Ghorban reached Paris, an activist found him accommodation in an emergency shelter. This was the beginning of a long and difficult path for him to fit in and find his place in society. First he had to get official residency documents. An error in the translation of his documents had set his date of birth as November 31, a non-existent date, and this was to be a constant spanner in the works when dealing with administrative authorities over the years to come.
Ghorban’s father had died, and he had been taken from his mother to look after livestock. His one driving ambition was to go to school, but he was spending his days at the shelter doing nothing, and as time went by, Ghorban became cut off and withdrawn. Youth workers suggested he should see a psychologist who was working with Médecins sans frontières. I was allowed to cover most of these therapy sessions, together with the documentary film-maker Claire Billet. The quotes presented as captions provide the storyline all the way through to the liberating outcome.
Ghorban has managed to come to terms with his past, with the experience of being torn away, torn apart, and abandoned, and he has finally discovered that his mother had not abandoned him, for in 2017, he set out to find his mother.
I was with Ghorban over a period of eight years, until he reached the age of adulthood.
With support from the French national center for the visual arts (Fund to support contemporary documentary photography).