Manilla Ghafuri

Manilla Ghafuri

Posted by Anne Thorsø Sørensen on

I’m Manilla Ghafuri, I’m born in Northern Afghanistan and I’m a refugee. At the moment I’m taking leave from my bachelor course in Danish while I’m leading a group for minority girls in Nørrebro and doing work as an activist and opinion leader. I’m also the leader of the organization Rapolitics. 

I was seven years old when I came to Denmark. I walked from Afghanistan to Poland with my family and didn’t know where I would be in the next hour, if we would have enough food, if we would survive. Upon arrival to Europe my family was separated. My mum and some of my siblings ended up in Germany while I ended up in Denmark with my dad and other siblings. We were apart for 1,5 years. It is one of the hardest things I’ve experienced in my life. 



It has taken a long time for me to turn my experiences into something I can use as strengths. Through elementary school and highschool I was just “tag-along-Manila”. I did everything I could to be accepted and fit in. I remember when I started my Danish degree, my fellow classmates had all these plans for their future but I had no idea what I wanted to do. I couldn’t feel myself. I had tucked myself away for so long that I couldn’t feel who I really was. 

When I saw the Syrian refugees walking up the highway towards Denmark in 2015 I suddenly recognized myself. I realized that the suffering I had gone through was real. I felt frustrated and powerless when I heard the media describe the refugees as a financial burden coming to take from our society. It was such a dehumanizing debate and I knew that I needed to use my voice. 

I could talk about how hard it is to be a refugee, and that it’s never a choice.

I took leave from my education and became part of the newspaper Information’s refugee paper where I told my story of being a child refugee. The job gave me the opportunity to set the agenda, which felt so empowering. I helped choose the stories for the paper, I called politicians and asked them questions.



After the newspaper experience I asked to become part of the theater house, Contact. They were doing a tour of schools to talk about the destinies of young people. I met with their director to share my story, but I couldn’t get the words out. Tears just ran down my face. It was so heavy. 

That process forced me to physically use my voice and I told my story at schools and conferences across the country. There I saw there the impact a story can have. People in the audience cried, they realized just how much you have to fight as a person on the run. 

After that I got introduced to Rapolitics, where we do workshops at schools with Hip-Hop and rap connected with storytelling. I’m now the leader of the organization. 



We need to acknowledge that no matter who you are, your voice should be valued and accepted. When I say “Yes, I’m Danish”, you need to accept that and not challenge it.  I very often experience that I and other minorities need to break extra barriers for people to see who I am, because of the colour of my skin. And the problem is: if others keep questioning your identity, you will start doing it too. 

I have an example of this from the other day on the train. This young brown guy is there with his arm in a cast, and the ticket inspector comes to check his ticket. The guy says that he needs a little time to find the ticket because his arm is hurt. The second he says that, the inspector assumes he doesn’t have a ticket and calls the police who comes running and confronts the guy. I get up, stand up next to him and say that I feel uncomfortable about how the situation is developing. The guy is smiling at me, and I see that I’m making a difference. They ask the guy to give his name, it’s Jonas. The policeman immediately questions his answer, how can his name be Jonas, when he is brown? He couldn’t even be trusted to say his own name. Jonas was finally able to show his ticket and the situation deescalated. However, no one ever apologized. 

It means so much that someone takes a stand for you. I remember that from my childhood. My entire family was thrown out from a store because of our skin color - no one said anything. I was accused of stealing in Aldi by a fellow customer, because “people like you steal” - no one said anything. 

Young Manila would never have dared to stand up next to Jonas on the train, but things are different now because I’ve found my voice. 



My experiences as a refugee have done a lot to me. That sensation of being a child on the run is still within me, and I wouldn’t respect myself if I didn’t do something to help others who’ve been through the same thing. I now organize fundraisers for victims of the war in Afghanistan, and it means the world to me when I hear that the people I help feel seen and heard. I get messages from civilians in Afghanistan telling me that what I did made a difference for whether they could survive or not.

I’m at a place now where I want to change history. It is not enough that people are moved by my story. Now it is important to me that people are proactive, initiate change and understand that their voices have weight. The step you take, when you activate your own voice, is big, and I love seeing this development in others. This one girl who is always commenting on my posts and encouraging my work, she is now writing a column in the newspaper. That is so cool. 



Carrying kindness to me is connected with love. I’m driven by empathy and love, and the notion that love has no limits. In a way it is very far from what I work with every day - because those subjects can be very heavy - but they have made me aware how important it is to keep a sense of love close. Love is the ultimative belief that there is another person who believes in you 100%. 


Instagram: manillasen


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