A few months later, he found himself alone in the city of Tartu in Estonia. There was no football club waiting for him. As an unaccompanied minor, he was placed in a shelter pending a deportation hearing.
“I remember I cried a lot at that time,” says Samuel, now 19. “Everything in Estonia was different from what I knew – the people, the culture, the food – it’s completely different from Africa.”
An uncertain future
Samuel spent a tough six months living in the shelter not knowing what his fate would be. Then, just as he was losing hope, SOS Children’s Villages learned of his case and stepped in. He was quickly transferred to the SOS youth home in Keila, near Tallinn while the court considered his status in the country. SOS Children’s Villages staff supported Samuel throughout the legal process and helped him with his application for asylum.
“There is no fixed process for unaccompanied minors as it was one of the first cases in Estonia,” says Mart Aru, one of the staff members who played a big role in supporting Samuel. “There was not enough information about what to do or whom to turn to. We had to find everything out ourselves.”
SOS staff were initially worried about Samuel and whether he would be able to settle in easily, but they needn’t have worried. “Despite everything he has gone through, he is so optimistic that my doubts disappeared quickly,” says Maria Aus, who heads up the youth home. “He’d already worked hard to learn some Estonian and that helped a lot. He is a great boy, he tries hard and appreciates the opportunities given to him.”
Rebuilding his life with SOS Children
Samuel is grateful for the help SOS Children’s Villages has given him. “Life got better when I came to the SOS youth home,” he says. “They are teaching me how to live an adult life – how to plan my life and manage my finances.”
Our youth homes are dedicated entirely to helping teenagers prepare for a successful life. The young people are encouraged to pursue further education or training and apprenticeships so that they will be able to stand on their own two feet once they leave the home. They are also taught essential life-skills like cooking, cleaning and how to manage their money.
An Estonian court finally decided that whilst Samuel would not be granted asylum, he would be given temporary residency enabling him to finish his studies at the Baltic Methodist Seminary in Tallinn. Despite still not being used to the harsh Estonian winters, Samuel is making the most of his in Estonia: “Last month I tried out at the Tartu football club but I didn’t do my best because it was too cold – minus 20 degrees! I’m not deterred though, I’m going to continue playing for the local football club in Kelia, but I do want more. I want to become a professional footballer!”
Child exploitation and human trafficking in Europe – an increasing problem
Samuel is believed to be one of as many as 30 young African boys and teenagers lured into believing that they would play for professional football teams in Europe. Samuel is one of the lucky ones – it is not known what has happened to the other boys.
Hundreds of thousands of unaccompanied children and young people have arrived on Europe’s shores since this time last year. The majority of them are teenage boys aged between 14-16. Many of them have been sent off by their parents who are desperate for their children to escape the seemingly never-ending cycle of violence and poverty they face in their own countries. These children are hugely vulnerable to exploitation and trafficking.
As part of our work addressing the refugee crisis, we are working with vulnerable un-accompanied children and young people. We are providing them with safe places to stay while we try to locate their families or find them a new home at one of our Children’s Villages as well as advice and support. Find out more about our refugee crisis appeal.