Lifelong on the run

‘I saw friends perish in bomb and terror attacks. I sensed that they were also close by me, the terrorists. You do not see them, they can be anywhere.’

Hadi Hairan was born in Afghanistan, but has been on the run from the civil war since the age of one. After a long journey of roughly 30 years, he has finally ended up in the Netherlands.

He now studies history at the RUG and lives with his family in the vicinity of Groningen. He does not know precisely how old he is. ‘My date of birth has never been written down, that happens quite often in Afghanistan. At a guess, I am about 35.’

Growing up in refugee camps

When Hairan reaches one year of age, he flees with his parents from Kunduz to Pakistan. In the neighboring land, the family lives in a refugee camp. ‘When you flee to Pakistan, you stay a refugee for your whole life. You can never become a Pakistani citizen like you could become Dutch in the Netherlands’, says Hairan.

At a young age, he begins to work. He is self-taught, as it is difficult for refugees to study. ‘My dream was to become a journalist, but how I would ever get there was beyond me.’ In 2000, Hairan moves to Karachi, a large city in Pakistan. After the September 11 terrorist attacks in America and the reaction of the international community in Afghanistan, there is a need for information from that corner of the world.

‘I started writing about it and sent my work to different newspapers. Some of the pieces were published and that is how I ended up in journalism’, Hairan recalls. Round about 2004, he gets his first permanent job as a journalist at a national newspaper in Pakistan, but soon thereafter he has to leave Karachi. ‘I was being threatened due to my journalistic work. I started to work in Peshawar, a city close to the border of Afghanistan.’

Returning out of patriotism

In 2009, Hairan decided to go back to the country of this birth, to the capital city Kabul. He says: ‘After the fall of the Taliban, everything had to be rebuilt in Afghanistan. There was nothing: no roads, schools, telephones or internet. The international community had set a course of rebuilding in motion; I wanted to contribute to it, out of a kind of patriotic feeling, I think. I also wanted to see my country of birth; I had never seen it before.’

In Kabul, Hairan works as an analyst at the Center for Conflict and Peace Studies and as a journalist for the news agency Pajhwok Afghan News. He also works for Central Asia Online, an American newspaper about the Middle East and Asia. He is doing well. ‘I had enough work and lived with my family in rented housing in the middle of the city.

Death threats

Hairan’s stay in his homeland does not last long. In 2010, he has to leave Afghanistan out of fear for his own life. ‘All of a sudden, I received threats about the articles I had written. The threats came from different terrorist factions. You almost never see the people themselves, they use several names. Sometimes they live close to you, but you do not know them. The state also threatened me. At that time, the government had secret contacts with terrorist factions.’

‘I had never seen my country of birth’
Hairan is threatened via telephone and email, even receiving some death threats. He is scared. Hairan has seen from close by that the terrorists make good on their threats. ‘A few friends of mine were murdered, tortured and terrorized because of what they had written in the media. I was at one of the bomb attacks where they died. For some, it was never made known who the perpetrators were. I sensed that they were also close by me. The images are still in my mind every day, I have nightmares from them.’

Via a family member in a Taliban-occupied village in Kunduz, Hairan receives word that the terrorists are plotting an attack on his life. ‘When I was even called with threats at one point, I knew for sure: they are close by, I have to go.’


He packs a few things and takes the next flight to Dubai. This is in January 2010. ‘I had already been to the Netherlands twice and had decided to flee there. I could not, however, apply for a visa in Afghanistan, as the embassy was shut due to threats after the film Fitna by Dutch parliamentarian Geert Wilders. Because I already had a visa for India, I decided to go there. In New Delhi, I arranged a visa for the Netherlands and I finally ended up at the registration center in Ter Apel’, says Hairan.

‘My life came to a standstill’

In Ter Apel, he arranges a safe place for his wife and children in Pakistan. ‘I was very worried and extremely upset and confused. What would happen? How were my children? The busy life that Hairan had in Afghanistan was at a standstill in Ter Apel. ‘It is completely silent in Ter Apel; we were not allowed to leave the registration center at that point in time. Additionally, you do not know anyone and you cannot speak the language.’

After seven months, Hairan gets a residence permit. His wife and children also come to the Netherlands a year later. ‘In order to keep myself busy, I had already started learning Dutch. Due to this, I could quickly go on to study history at the RUG after a foundation year at the Alfa College.’ Hairan studies via the UAF, the foundation for refugee students. ‘Besides the fact that it was the only degree I could study at the university, I feel that it is also important to learn the history of the continent in which I now live’, he explains as the reason for his choice of degree.

Fulltime novelist

He does not yet know what exactly he wants to do with his studies when he is finished. He is now working as an entrepreneur and has enough work. As well as his degree programme at the university, he follows courses in the area of his work, which he cannot say much about due to an oath of secrecy.
In the future, he wants to become a fulltime novelist. ‘I am still working on refining my Dutch. The topics of my novels are Afghanistan and Pakistan, the Middle East, the wars and conflicts between the current secularization and the rooted, superstitious tribalism.’