Red carpet in Parliament but precariousness in the reception centre

Feridoon and Nooria Aryan now live with their children of 7 and 2 years old in a room in Barcelona

3 min
La Nooria and the Feridoon, with their sons Heraab and Anosh in Barcelona

BarcelonaThey were the first people invited to visit the Catalan Parliament, two weeks ago now, when its measures against the coronavirus were lifted, and the House paid them an overwhelming tribute with all MPs giving them a standing ovation that gave them goosebumps, as they admit. Feridoon Aryan and his wife, Nooria, arrived in Barcelona on 13 October with their two children, Heraab and Anosh, aged 7 and 2. They are one of the few Afghan families who have been lucky enough to land in Spain in October onboard one of the two evacuation flights the Ministry of Defence made from Islamabad. They feel eternally grateful that they have been brought here and their lives have been saved, but they admit that they would also like to feel "human"; something they have not achieved so far. They say this quietly, not wanting to cause offence. "We know we can't complain, we know we have to put up with whatever."

The president of the Parliament, Laura Borràs, greeting the Afghan family during their visit to the Catalan Parliament

Whatever it is to live in a reception centre in Barcelona with more than twenty people, each one from a different country. There they have been assigned a room with three beds, a couple of wardrobes, a table and some chairs, as they describe themselves. The rest is shared: the toilets, the kitchen, the dining room... Nooria is the only woman staying at the centre, and her children, the only two boys. "There is no toilet for women," laments Feridoon. "Yes, it's difficult. It's true that I don't feel very safe when my husband is not with me," she confesses, also measuring her words for fear that they will be misinterpreted and someone will think that they are not grateful enough.

There is a catering service at the centre and the same food is served to everyone. This certainly saves them work, but it's a nightmare for the children. "It's new food for them. They don't like it, they don't want it," says Feridoon. He looks desperate. He would love to be able to buy the food his children like, but he doesn't have the money either. Since they arrived in Spain, they have only been given €150. In Afghanistan they had a fortune, but they had to leave the country with empty pockets. Since the Taliban came to power, it has been almost impossible to get money out of the banks.

Nooria walking with her son in a park in Barcelona

"My wife now gets angry all the time and my 7-year-old son cries about everything. It's not normal, we need psychological help," says Feridoon, who no longer knows how to cope. He admits that there are many people here who want to help them: they offer to accompany them wherever they go or take them to visit places in Barcelona. But what they want is to live like a normal family, in a place where they can cook food for their children and go to the toilet without fear, even if it is a small and humble place.

The same treatment for everyone

Anna Figueras, the representative in Catalonia of the Spanish Commission for Refugee Aid (CEAR), which manages the reception centre, acknowledges that the facilities are home to people of very different origins – from sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America, Maghreb... – that the services are shared and that it is impossible to cook to everyone's taste. But she assures that they treat everyone the same, wherever they come from, that the centre is part of the state reception programme and that the money they give families is as stipulated by the Spanish government, no more and no less. Feridoon and his family will have to stay –unless the CEAR moves them to another place– until the government resolves their request for international protection. And this could take months.

Feridoon was a spokesperson for Unicef in Afghanistan and his wife worked as a lecturer at a private university. They were an upper-middle-class, progressive family. You can tell by the way she dresses: Western and without a headscarf. They managed to get evacuated on a Spanish government flight thanks to the efforts of ERC MP Rubén Wagensberg. Feridoon admits that they didn't expect a red carpet welcome at the Catalan Parliament, but they didn't expect their living conditions here to be like this either.