About Refugees, By Refugees

Akbar Akbari

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Photo and interview by:




Esra Gültekin

I didn’t dream about something really particular or some heaven, but I just wanted to be in a stable and safe situation.” Akbar Akbari (pseud, 30) is an Iranian refugee living in Berlin. Akbar says he “was persecuted for political activity.” His journey to Europe was “the most difficult experience that I had in my life.” On the way he was imprisoned, arrested, and lost in a forest. Akbar was not prepared to face these situations, but “at some point… instincts take over.” He adds, “when you’re facing with fear or a frightening possibility that can damage you or hurt you, so you immediately adopt yourself and finds the way to protect yourself. So I didn’t expect that I have this ability, but it happened.” Now, living in Germany makes him feel good. As for the future, Akbar says, “I don’t have that much a big dream of anything like the past that I was living…I try to cultivate my garden as Voltaire says…I think that can be a good dream to reach.”

Trigger Warning:

full interview

What kind of housing do you live in?
I am living in a house project with some activist people and they are understanding and they understand me as a human being so I feel good with them.

Can you describe the conditions?
It has four rooms each person has a room and the kitchen is for everyone it’s common.

How do you spend your time here? Do you work?
I started studying at university.

What are some of the things that bring you joy?
Even in my own life, I don’t know what are these but maybe watching films can bring joy to me.

How has life been since you arrived in Europe? What’s been good about being here? What’s been difficult?
There is a song from an Argentinian singer I forgot his name and, he and his friend go to Uruguay to exile and one night they are so drunk and so sad about leaving their home and the guy starts. One of them picks up the guitar and the starts playing but the next morning they forget everything but hopefully one person was recording this song and it becomes the song of exile. And it has a line it says “I’m not from here, I’m not from there, I don’t have any future, I don’t have any age”. So, I think for people like us we do not belong here and we do not belong to the past and we are somewhere in between. So it can be everything there are so many things that we all miss but the past is gone and there are so many things we don’t know about it, but the future is not yet here.

Can you describe how living here has made you feel?
It’s made me feel good.

How does being away from the rest of your family/home make you feel? How does the feeling of not belonging/discrimination/stigma impact you? Can you describe it?
This is a reality that I have to accepted and I cannot change it. Not necessarily good but there are so many things in life that we don’t choose, but we have to cope with it.  It’s something that more or less every week happens. Thanks to Corona it happens less because I should stay at home. That’s one of the good side effects of Corona- you feel less racism in the street because you don’t go that much to the street. And, but I see it every day when I go to a dentist when they see a brown man immediately they ask for a “gültiger ausweis” (valid document) and they don’t take you as a human but if you are not brown probably maybe if you are not a foreigner these things won’t happen. So racism is not something abstract or away from everyday life. 

Could you ever have imagined that you would have been able to handle this situation? How have you been able to overcome/survive/live with it?
No, I didn’t expect or think of these things that will happen to me. I didn’t imagine anything. I was a normal citizen of the world-everything was normal.

Do you think that you developed the ability to deal with these challenges or do you think you always had those skills/strengths/mechanism/resilience?
These are white supremacist point of view questions in my opinion, but any human being in any condition can develop some abilities, because it doesn’t happen to white people it doesn’t mean that they don’t exist or it’s something extraordinary. So yes of course every human being in any situation can develop some skills to survive and we are the people that happen to be in those situations.  In any human being these abilities exists, but they should face with this certain situation that then they realize that they have this ability in for example to face which fear or to find ways to run away from attentional situation, it is not a given thing but people in certain situations will find them in themselves.

How has Covid19 affected you in terms of daily life and your mood/feeling/emotional well being?
Not so much to be honest in a bad sense. Because I didn’t have so many contacts but the good thing that happened because of Corona as I told you is the less experience of racism in daily life because you don’t have that much contact with the outside world of not necessarily nice people. 

Why did you leave your country? Can you describe what happened?
I was persecuted for political activity and I was supposed to be charged but I prefer to not go through that procedure and leave.

How did that make you feel at the time?
I wasn’t thinking that much of what will happen in the future and what is in the past so I was just trying to make a decision to not being arrested or the immediate situation was more important rather than thinking about the feelings of what will happen but for sure it was a sudden decision and in the course of 24 hours or something I just came out. That time definitely it’s just a constant feeling of fear and security and the panic attacks that you are sure that you will be sent to either Turkey or Iranian regime which both of them means the same thing torture or I don’t know executional among different.

How was the journey to Europe? Is there any? Is there an experience that was particularly difficult that you could tell us about it?
I was so scared, to be honest and I didn’t know what will happen and it was scared of the checkpoints and the gendarmerie especially in Turkey. If you are Iranian and if you are an Iranian dissident or whatever so it’s a complicated situation, but my smuggler had three-year-old son and one six months daughter I think and in front of my checkpoints. I had almost a panic attack but the child became after a while like an ID card for me. The journey was from Iraqi Kurdistan to Greece for me basically and there was some smugglers that you should find them and make it deal with them, then there were so many things at the same time that you should avoid them. Because of your political activities if you are an activist that you are not wanted by the Iranian regime, by the Turkish regime at the same time is that you should avoid mostly Kurdish ruling party’s authorities at the same time, so for me the challenges started from Erbil how to cross all the KDP, the Barzani’s party’s checkpoints and each time it was a bit difficult that some point they arrested me but there were some friends that they intervene and set me free. And then at the end I reached to the border to Iraq and Turkey it was the journey started that one o’clock and we went with the car it took not so long to reach to appoint in the mountain and then from there we started walking. But the most difficult thing that I think it was the most difficult experience that I had in my life was crossing the Turkish checkpoint. For two reasons one is that I didn’t want to be captured from the Turkish side and probably would have been tortured for a long time and either being imprisoned in Turkey or delivered to Iran which would have been to be tortured again in Iran and executed most possibly which is so common but the other reason is that as an Iranian refugee you should never ever announce it in Turkey because immediately they torture you and the next day they hand you to the police on the other side of Iran and Turkey for these two reasons I was afraid but mainly the first reason which was not to be arrested by the Turkish gendarmes or the police. So each checkpoint was really kind of difficult and I was in a car with a driver who had his wife and two kids and they were Kurds so and it was his business he was just smuggling people from the checkpoints but there was no other detour to not go through the checkpoints so each time, and my Turkish was not good, I had some stuff with myself which on the way I was throw them away from the window to not be seen by the Turks but then at some point they had this family they had a four year old boy and one year old daughter, she was extremely sweet and she became my ID card at some point because I was carrying her and each time to Turkish police was coming into the window, so I aggressively what the fuck is your name? I was showing her and she was a smiling and all of them so they were saying that everything is nice and you are a family so you can go it was the whole way to Istanbul.  I mean yeah, I it was difficult when I arrived to Istanbul over there, there was another dealer which was supposed to give me to a smuggler, so in the refugee literature we have a term which is called game. Game means that the procedure that one will have to cross a border or one journey that he or she starts to go to the border or cross a border. So I had six games and the sixth one was successful which I got arrested by the Greek authorities. But four of one of them exactly inside Istanbul this Taksim square the police came and we ran away, the other four the smuggler left us. One of them was so catastrophic because we were 72 people in Edirne in the jungle, anyway we were 72 and then the smuggler at after two days gathered us and said I cannot continue we should give money 100 Turkish Lira and I didn’t have money. I had Euros but I didn’t want to give them. But so anyone who has money come with me and then they’ve disappeared they run away so we were alone there from so many different countries from Africa from Egypt from yeah, we were from different nationalities mainly Kurdish people and we were just lost in the jungle. So I was with two other Afghan friends, we ran away and the police cars came immediately, not immediately maybe 20 minutes later and we saw the Syrians. It was cold it was the beginning of December and everywhere was dumped with the muds and we were in the muds hiding and its started to rain so we waited three hours all the police went and then we walked away from the jungle to Edirne which was 20 minutes or something. But anyway, some events like this happened that we were just one step away from being the rest of the police. And yeah each time one of these people the people that I was with them, they were really curious, why am I so afraid of the Turkish police because for them it was maximum refugee camp in the in Turkey but for me it was not about that. I didn’t want to be contacted but when we crossed the border again they had told us that if the Greek army arrest you it’s so catastrophic because immediately they take all your money and your phones and all your stuffs and then they threw them into the river and they sent you directly to the police on the other side. If you are lucky you would be arrested by the Greek police which they cannot do this since because UN is there and they cannot do this. So we were 16 people gathered in the back of a high looks which one of the Bangladeshi guys almost died because he couldn’t breathe and we started all of us to vomit on each other’s face and closes on the back of the truck and then the Greek police cut us on the way to Thessaloniki and so again my all the traumas of being arrested by Turkey came to because I thought okay for sure they didn’t send me back but it didn’t happen they sent us to a refugee camp which was a prison. It was a prison that they turned it into a refugee camp so we were waiting there and each day I was waiting for the moment that they called my name and then sent me to Turkey hopefully didn’t happen so we waited one month in the prison there then they sent us who exactly another prison and I was there for almost two months and done. I came to Athens and got my temporarily refugee ID card. Well, I just shortened this but yeah.

Do you think often about these events that you faced? When? Is there something, in particular, you think about it?
Not so often right now but before that, it was a bit the first time that I was experiencing so I was thinking a lot but not now. There are in the past.

What do you feel when you think about that?
I mean, the questions are too similar. I think I already answered.

Does the situation you faced affect you today? How?
I don’t think that it affects me directly but maybe indirectly there are so many times that I dream of being ambushed or surrounded and these things but I think it’s something that everyone is dreaming of, but it’s not something that affects my daily life or. I think about it because life continues and you have always known obstacles and new tasks to do so you don’t stay in one place. 

Could you ever have imagined that you would have been able to handle that situation?
No, as I said, I was not prepared maybe even mentally but at some point when you are in a certain situation the human being you go deeper to think and your instincts take over and there are so many different layers of human psyche that open up and you can see things better or analyze them but they’re in a certain situation, so when you’re facing with fear or a frightening, possibility that can damage you or hurt you so you immediately adopt yourself and finds the way to protect yourself. So I didn’t expect that I have this ability, but it happened and I don’t think what I experienced was something special or unique to compare to the others or other stories that we hear always. 

How were you able to survive/get through it? Have you created any kind of strategy / coping mechanisms to get through the hard times/difficult memories? Where do you find strength and support?
I think I got through it and there is nothing that the definition of getting through means that you are facing with it’s still whatever it is in the past but when it is doesn’t have any power anymore on your life, so it means that it is finished and you got over it. So, I think this is the case for me. The difficulties are passed already, and I don’t have that much difficulties to face, concerning the events that I have experienced but there are friends and family or so close friends and partner and this person that I can count on them and but it’s not related to the past.

Before the event that led you to flee home occurred, what was your dream? (have them answer “Before the war (event) my dream was…”)
I was studying master of something in human science and was supposed to continue for Ph.D. and could have been professor or something in one university in Iran, but the life changes and you don’t. 

When you were leaving your home what was your dream for the future? (have them answer “I dreamt that…”)
I didn’t dream about something really particular or some heaven, but I just wanted to be in a stable and safe situation. 

Before leaving your home country what would you describe as your strengths? Have you maintained these? If so, how? If not, why not?
What was a describing as strengths? These questions are so details and I don’t know to answer how because they seem like psychology called questions that someone should know, but I don’t know maybe my strengths were I don’t know good memory and I don’t know. Humility something like this. 

What you’ve been through seems really difficult, do you feel like you have grown in any way as a result of this experience or has anything at all positive come out of it?
Yeah, I think so. I mean, I face with some kind of extreme situations all the way in the past that I was going, and I had never been in prison but I was in prison in Greece even arrested and but it’s not that much important but in general, I think yeah, anyone can get some lessons or get through it or I don’t know to take you and abilities.

What are your hopes and dreams for the future now?
My hope is to find myself in the world that I do not belong to it and to be coordinated with the new situation and yeah, and the dream is to I don’t have that much a big dream of anything like the past that I was living. I think I’m seeing the world more in a mature way not in a childish, for example, dreamy way. I try to cultivate my garden as Voltaire says which I think was a brilliant idea that at the end of the Candide the book that he wrote is describing this crazy world of wars and religious, zealousness and all the executions and superstitions and all the brutality of the humankind of suffering but at the end, it’s just the question that what can you do as a human being individual. So, he described it as a one must cultivate his or her garden. I think that can be a good dream to reach. 

We really appreciate you answering all these questions. Is there anything you’d like to add that might help people in Europe better understand the life of refugees here?
I am sure my words will be censored and change when it goes to the editorial sections not with you because they will select, and they will choose the things that they want to show. The problem is that the refugee as a concept is a super ideological concept and it really degrading because it categories human being in different species. One that is a normal human being is called this white European man, and the others are just subspecies of human being which one of them is in a category called the refugee. So, what they are trying to reproduce is this ideological image and I can feel it through the questions that were here. I think the best thing that the people in Europe can do is to stop even using the term refugee instead of the immigrant. They can use immigrant as a refugee and, refugee has a political and ideological semantic charge. But besides that, they should just realize that there are different humans in different conditions and stop this white male European gaze toward the world, which I don’t think they will do it but hopefully one day they can do it and to realize that there are different humans and there isn’t that much the other as they try to describe, that was it.

Many 1000 Dreams interviews were not conducted in English. Their translation has not always been performed by professional translators. Despite great efforts to ensure accuracy, there may be errors.