In 2000, Hamed aged 10, had to escape from Afghanistan with his family. He has now written a successful book and co-authored a play about his family's story and their 18 month journey to safety in UK.
Afghans make up one of the
largest refugee populations worldwide.
And since the Taliban
took back control in 2021,
women have lost many of their rights
to be educated and to work.
Hamed Amiri was 10 years old in the year 2000,
when his mother delivered a speech
about women's rights
in a school playground in Herat, Afghanistan.
It led to an order from the Taliban
for his mother to be executed.
In the middle of the night,
Hamed and two brothers and his parents,
had to leave their home
with only the clothes they were wearing
Their story was
turned into a bestselling book
written by Hamed two years ago.
Which then led to it becoming a
sell-out play at the National Theatre –
the UK's most prestigious venue.
Leaving Our Homeland
Direct Talk met Hamed Amiri
in Cardiff, in Wales
to talk about his family's story,
and how it represents the horror
of many refugee journeys to safety.
I think for me yeah,
you'd call it a normal childhood,
or as normal as it could be.
Mum always wanted daughter
and she got left with three boys.
We tried to make it as normal as possible –
having a laugh, playing around,
but in reality,
outside our bubble of our family
we were in Herat, Afghanistan,
year 2000, Taliban ruling,
and even though we were kids
we weren't really allowed to be kids.
And we were lucky not to have a sister,
because she wouldn't have
the same opportunities as we did.
I think when you grow up in an environment,
you're born in an environment,
you automatically become aware.
I always wanted a sister,
but when I saw the injustices
happening to the girls
and not having the same opportunity,
not being allowed to walk out on their own,
even getting married at a young age,
I didn't really want a sister.
There was less restriction
being a boy than being a girl,
and that really upset me,
and obviously mum even more.
Afghanistan is a beautiful and varied country
with many different landscapes of desert,
mountains, villages as well as big cities.
But it has suffered from political instability
and much conflict during its modern history.
Today the Taliban have made a rapid comeback
to take over almost all of the country
after US forces left in 2021.
The best way I can describe it is,
you know, from a religion perspective,
and in the Islam perspective
you have a framework.
These are the boundaries of religion
that you should follow.
What you have then you have someone who says,
I'm taking these guidelines,
I'm putting my spin on it,
and this is what you should follow.
So for me
I wouldn't describe Taliban
as a religious ruling,
I'd say it's a regime.
They will take a page off,
this is what religion has said,
but that's their interpretation.
Growing up, Hamed was one of three brothers,
and older brother Hussein.
They were a happy and close family.
Hamed's parents knew that
they would have to leave Afghanistan
for specialist treatment abroad one day
as doctors could not treat his brother –
Hussein's rare heart condition.
But after his mother gave a speech
about women's rights,
their lives were thrown into turmoil.
Somebody reported Hamed's mother
to the Taliban.
I think it was a
gradual tipping point for mum,
but what she never expected,
is if she goes to the local playground
and simply talk to her friends
and people that she knew
in the local community,
it would have such big consequences.
I think that's the bit we didn't know.
That there would be a random Taliban
informant somewhere that would report back
and they will take such a harsh stance
and say we don't accept this,
and there was an execution order.
Mum - she was telling the girls,
and the younger generation,
follow your dreams,
but time after time after time
those girls would come in,
feel inspired, walk away,
get married at a young age,
not have the same chance,
and not really be able to
chase their dreams
it wasn't angry,
it wasn't violence,
it was just speaking the truth
about equality, about women's rights,
but at that time,
and unfortunately now,
it is something that you can't do.
In order to reach the UK,
Hamed alongside his two brothers,
and his parents,
travelled through seven countries,
hiding in the boots of cars and in lorries.
They were robbed,
threatened by traffickers,
deprived of food,
they walked for miles
and even slept with animals in a barn
in freezing temperatures.
To add to their worries,
everyone feared that
Hussein would not survive
such a difficult and exhausting journey.
While their initial attempt to
reach Britain was unsuccessful,
on their second attempt they were able to
enter the UK on the back of a lorry.
The family was later granted asylum
and settled in Cardiff in Wales
I think at the time I didn't know
how much it impacted me,
you know, when someone says
you've got to leave home,
you're not just leaving home,
you're leaving your identity,
you're leaving your belongings,
you're leaving your family,
your loved one, your memories,
your comfort zone.
That was the moment
I knew I can't be a child,
because we were going to
take on this journey.
And, let's not forget journey was about
leaving Afghanistan, Herat,
because of mum's speech,
but also as soon as we left
it was about Hussein,
because by that time he's had two operations,
he needed a third one to save his life,
and in my head it's a race against time,
And that was the 18 months journey of sort of
bottling up your emotions,
not being a child,
can't really complain,
my parents are already
worried about so many aspects,
I can't let my brothers down,
and that really had an impact,
but I didn't know until it unravelled itself
when I got to UK,
when I felt safe.
I would say I was young enough
to not let it impact me,
but old enough to understand
what was going on.
When someone from your own city,
from your own country,
you know, wanted to kill your mother,
when people along the way mugged you
and didn't really see you as a human being,
how can I trust a stranger?
In this case
a school teacher, telling me
"How can I help you?"
In my head it was,
"What's your intention? What's your agenda?"
And that took me, five years
to kind of unravel and say,
"Actually there is no intention,
they just want to help."
Once they were safe in Cardiff,
Hussein who was 14
needed lifesaving operations
which required long stays in hospital.
Yet despite his illness,
he flourished at school,
got a degree and a good job,
even becoming a governor –
of the NHS health service.
But in 2018,
Hussein died after his complex
heart condition deteriorated.
It was in the aftermath
of his older brother's death
that Hamed decided to write a book
to cement Hussein's legacy.
The Boy With Two Hearts.
When he passed away,
and I looked at my parents and
how much they were suffering.
And very early on.
we're talking within days,
I should write,
I don't know why writing was in my head,
and tell our story,
but specifically tell Hussein's story,
the way he lived his life,
and somehow cement his legacy.
I mean, what I never expected was for me to
lock myself in a room,
but be able to write everything
in three months' time.
I mean, we wrote 85,000 words
in three months' time
and someone said,
you know, how did you do it,
I said, well, everything just
wanted to get out of my system,
it's part of my grieving process,
but also reliving the good moments,
but also the low moments.
The reason I called the book
The Boy With Two Hearts,
is a reference to my older brother,
the way he lived his life,
obviously a faulty heart,
and one crazy huge heart,
I think for me, the Boy With Two Hearts,
is a family story,
I think I said to someone, if we didn't
leave home my mum wouldn't have lived,
if we didn't leave home
our brother wouldn't have had
an additional 17 years.
And no matter how bad that journey was,
even if it was worse
we would still have made that journey
because we knew we had to do it.
so for me it's people realising actually
it isn't packing a suitcase,
let's go on a plane,
get to the other side,
you know, go on benefits et cetera,
Hamed's book - The Boy With Two Hearts -
was so successful
that it was then adapted into a sell-out play
at the Wales Millennium Centre
in Cardiff in 2021.
The play details his family's dramatic escape
and 18 months journey as a
refugee family fighting to survive.
Each year hundreds of thousands of refugees
make a journey like Hamed's family
in order to escape war, poverty and death.
And the stage play has shone a light
on what refugees go through to get to safety.
And women's rights are
as under threat today in Afghanistan,
as they were in the year 2000
when Hamed's mother made her speech.
I was hoping
I'd be telling a story of the past,
but in reality I'm telling a story
that is happening right now,
and unfortunately it's still happening,
which makes it even more relevant
that we should be sharing these stories
and telling these stories
and this is a perfect platform
for people to realise
why do we need to be more aware of people
making those journeys.
Despite never having visited
to the theatre before,
alongside younger brother Hessam
taking an active creative role,
the two brothers
worked with writer Phil Porter
to adapt their dramatic escape
from their home for the stage.
They sat in rehearsals for several weeks
helping write the script
create authentic dialogue for the actors,
advising on Afghan culture.
We've never been to theatre before, and
when we pitched the idea,
the producer at the time said,
"This is great, have you been to a theatre?"
and I said, "No."
"It might be worth you go and see some shows
to see what it looks like,"
and again it's crazy to think,
never written a book,
wrote a book,
never been to a theatre,
done a theatre,
who says you can't do something
that you've never done before.
And again this is a prime example of chasing
your crazy dreams and actually believe in it.
I think not just the Afghan community
but the whole refugee community,
like we have seen people
come to the theatre show
and to see their reaction go,
this is our story as well,
or this is our parents' story
that we could never understand or
fathom like what they went through,
but now we can see it, thank you.
I think that for us was
the strangest experience we've had
like parents and grandparents
who brought their children to see it,
they'd be like we just want them
to understand the journey we took,
that they didn't get to see.
And I think we went through,
we went to mosque
and there was a few people there going,
oh, those are the boys of the theatre show
and then the kids were going,
oh, we came and saw your story,
we were going oh, OK, thank you,
and their dad was like going,
thank you so much,
and for us, we just wanted to tell our story,
but it became everyone's story.
Hamed is now 32
and he and his brother Hessam
see Cardiff as their home.
Through their work,
both brothers have become role models
for a younger generation of refugees.
Hamed also works with refugee charities
including the Red Cross,
and he returns regularly to his old school
where his former teacher is now headmaster.
I think If you were to join the school today,
you would very much feel a similar group
of pupils to when you joined.
I think you'd still recognise the pupils,
very diverse population,
a lot of young people who come from aboard
and this is their first school in the UK,
with very little or no English at all.
You know, we've got, obviously recently
we've had a number of Ukrainian children,
fleeing the war out there, and
terrible situations in their own countries.
Do you know what hasn't changed –
- No no.
- Exactly like this.
That's right, yeah.
- And still the same.
someone came to my class and said
to be scared,
to be confused,
to be nervous,
it's OK not being ok
For the future, Hamed's mission is to share
his family's story with a wider audience
and change perceptions
surrounding refugees and diversity.
Many refugees who face death
are still forced to use traffickers
and criminals to get to safety.
That through his work,
people will understand
why refugees are forced to risk
their lives and those of their children.
And that the girls and women of Afghanistan
are not forgotten.
I think for me and for my brother Hessam
it hurts me,
it actually hurts me to know
that the younger generation,
the girls, the boys, no matter who,
but I have to be optimistic
that one day in my lifeline,
I will see peace and
prosperity in Afghanistan.
For me, when I came to this, to this country
I did not have any aspirations.
I looked around and I say, look,
I cannot speak English,
so how can I actually go and
get an education, get a degree, get a job?
But in reality,
if you genuinely have self-belief,
why not say I'm going to be
the next big engineer, doctor,
or in my case,
do you know what, why the hell not,
let's write a book,
we'll get it published,
we'll somehow get it on in the theatre,
we'll somehow go into TV,
it's harder than saying, saying it,
but in reality it isn't,
and I've got this really cheesy quote
that I've covered over the years,
Enjoy the highs while embracing the lows.