School, a Literal Lifesaver for Atheist on the run – Ilham from Afghanistan

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An abusive father that didn’t accept his doubts about religion, and his job for a US company, that will put his life at risk when the Taliban takes over in Afghanistan, made Ilham to decide to leave. On a student visa he is now in Turkey. But that’s only a temporary solution. SUN is searching for options for him to get permanent residence, or flee to a country where he can request asylum.

Case: Ilham from Afghanistan
Start date: march 7, 2021
Support: living costs and support to get a permit to stay somewhere
Budget needed: monthly €150 for living costs plus budget for a permanent solution
Funded (June 2021): € 600

Ilham is a member of this community. If you want to get in touch or have a question for him, you can ask him directly via his profile page.

March 2021 – For many of us higher education is a choice to better ourselves. For Ilham it is a matter of life and death. Ilham, a young Afghan, is registered as a student at a university in a small city in Turkey. If he doesn’t continue his studies he loses his residency permit and will be deported to Afghanistan.

“That means death sentence,” explained Ilham in a recent conversation with IAA. “I would need to pay them and study or they will cancel my residence permit.”

Tuition for Ilham (an alias to protect his identity) is not just necessary for him to continue his studies but necessary to stay alive and away from people who wish to harm him because he is an atheist.

“I am an atheist activist type of person,” he said.

As a young boy in Afghanistan Ilham came to question his beliefs. An abusive father started beating him from the age of 4. He didn’t understand why Allah would allow this type of abuse. Always a bright child, Ilham speaks Pashto (spoken in Afghanistan), Dari (sometimes called Afghan Persian) and English. His linguistic abilities got the attention of the U.S. government, which hired Ilham as a Linguist/Analyst for their operations in Afghanistan. This came crashing down late last year when Ilham admitted his atheist beliefs to his father. This resulted in a horrible physical interaction with is father that left Ilham badly injured. And then the Taliban found out about Ilham’s work for the U.S.

Update May 2021 – Ilham was forced to leave his job and move to Turkey where he enrolled in studies. But just recently he was overheard chatting about middle eastern politics when other students confronted Ilham and ganged up on him.
Ilham was slightly injured, but was able to escape back to his dorm room. The next day, he and his friends moved from the small university city to Istanbul with the help of IAA. Currently he is in a dorm with five others. It’s a place to rest his head but still he doesn’t feel safe.

“It’s like being in hotel with prostitutes and drug dealers,” said Ilham. “But at least I don’t have people behind my door with knives.”
His short-term goal is to enroll in a university in Istanbul to study social work or psychology which is taught in English. His long-term goal is to live in a free country where he can express himself without fear and to help others who are seeking to leave Islam.
“I want to move to 3rd country as soon as possible,” said Ilham.
Ilham needs your support to help with PTSD issues from his traumatic childhood as well as eventually moving to a safe country that accepts his atheism.

Young Afghan refugee atheist in Turkey faces health challenges

Update July 2021 – Health struggles and financial woes have sent this twenty-something atheist back to a small Turkish city after a move to Istanbul proved too costly. “Without school I can’t stay here and without proper health I won’t be able to study,” said Ilham, who suffers from insomnia, allergies, fatigue and issues with the intense Turkish summers (30 + Celsius with high humidity common all summer).

When the Secular Underground Network (SUN) touched base with Ilham in May he had just relocated to Istanbul in hopes of furthering his studies and finding physical safety from those who would harm him because of his atheism. But his health, living arrangements and costs in Istanbul made it difficult for him to continue there. The young Afghan can only stay in Turkey if he remains in school. He returned to the small university city where he first set foot after fleeing a dangerous situation in Afghanistan. Once again Ilham (not his real name to protect his safety) faces a conundrum. He needs to be healthy to study and he needs to study to stay.

“Because living in Istanbul was very costly and in bad conditions I decided to take the risk and return to (this city) since my university is here,” recounted Ilham. “I keep a low profile and try my best not to go out much and not see the individuals that tried to attack and harm me.”

Ilham shares a small, barren apartment with a friend and another roommate. They have no refrigerator, no air conditioning and no fan. Ilham hand-washes his clothes in a bucket in the austere bathroom. He has a few dried goods on shelves for food. Without a refrigerator, he needs to shop each day, which is extra costly.

Ilham needs your help. His short-tem goal is to get healthy so he can study. His long-term goal is to get to an atheist-friendly country so he can achieve his potential and be free from those who wish to harm him because he does not believe in their God.

“I am from Afghanistan, we have been through a lot,” Ilham explained. “Situations like this don’t bother us much but I am not healthy now.” “Physical health is important,” he said. “If you can’t breathe well, can’t eat and can’t sleep and you have to take cold showers to maintain your body temperature. Your pillow feels like a heater and your bed like a cooker.” Ilham’s priority now is to get better. If he is healthy he can study and he can thrive. But he needs money for doctor visits and medicine and his schooling. “I have very poor appetite, I can feel my stomach hurt but I won’t be able to eat,” he explained.

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