About Refugees, By Refugees

Alex Mamytov

Pictures taken in:

From:

Nationality:

Photo and interview by:

Sweden

Kyrgyzstan

Kyrgyz

Ali Jehad

Now I have a dream,” says Alex Mamytov (pseud, 38), a transgender asylee from Kyrgyzstan living in Sweden. “I want to be able to connect to my family again. I want us to become friends, and because I’m now here, they don’t have to be under this constant pressure of me speaking up.” An activist, Mamytov fled his home after he was almost killed by his extended family. He says his mom gave him strength during that time. Now he lives in a collective with other refugees and asylum seekers. After three years, he finally feels settled in Sweden. But until recently, he says it has been a struggle. “They have these forms: whom should we call in case of emergency? And that’s not fun when you realize that you actually have no one’s name to put in.” He also worries that things have become “much tougher for refugees and immigrants.” While he enjoys some privileges as a member of the LGBTQ community, his Muslim friends are profiled: “I know that it feels good only because I don’t have a beard.”

Trigger Warning:

full interview

So, such a strong identity before, and it’s still strong, but it’s not so strong anymore because like here, I found myself being a part of the group and maybe like it’s very like.

So you do feel like you were in a part of the group, even though you you said you said you carry the same values, but you didn’t feel like you belong.
I was like. Mostly I would hang out with immigrants and refugees.

In Kyrgyzstan?
No, no, no here. Like in Kyrgyzstan I was like mostly hang out with queer people and with activists. I mean, of course, like there some meetings that you don’t want normally to happen, like having to deal with police, like, especially. But yeah, I think right now I like learning life from from a different perspective.

Yeah.
Because it’s so much safer for me, like I’m a person of color. That’s very important to me. Like maybe not a refugee but a person of color. I think like that would be like.

You see that as part of your identity as well.
Right now yes. Because I think like sometimes our identities are shaped by the by the by our experience.

And so if we talk about, you know, life. Well, how do you say like you’re you know, you’re the way you live in Sweden. How how would you describe that situation.
Right now? Or before?

Yeah, basically, like right now in the springtime, like do you live in a house?
I like, I live in a collectiveand it’s hopefully, like still unknown. But I hope that in a few days I will get a second hand contact finally. And it’s a nice area. And actually it’s the first time I feel that, OK, more or less settled in Sweden. Because like three years of being in the Swedish Migration Agency’s system then being part of being living in the commune, which is not welcome to refugees. Not very welcoming.And yeah, it’s different, much different.

So as you mentioned, you said you live in a collective living. So how’s the condition like living with other people, how do you like it?
It’s fine. Like it’s been challenging as well, because in the summertime we try to live together with other refugees. I mean, asylum seekers or people who just are newcomers let’s say, who just came to Sweden and it’s camps and traumatized people sometimes like and also having different backgrounds. There were a lot of challenges. Not sharing the language. But I think it’s like everywhere, you know.Like building collective is not about where a person comes from. Is about how the person perceived the common space and privacy. Like, to be honest, like I’ve, I’ve lived with local people, with, with Americans here and before. And it’s same. You’re like if you have a messy roomy, that roomy will be messy. Doesn’t matter like where this roomy comes from or any kind of status, you know. It’s just like or you either get along or not. But it’s something I actually started appreciating meeting so many people here and learning so many stories like life stories, true stories, which I actually like most of the in some cases, it’s unbelievable for people.And yeah.

How are these stories that you hear? Like do you feel that they shape the daily life that you live here in a sense or do they?
I think it shaped the way I see how the, how the system works here and not the shaping my daily life.Because I have to admit, I’m like. Recently one person told me that I have, I’m lucky with my how my name and last name sound.

Yeah.
So I guess we are talking about like chances to get a job and she’s loco. And she was like that was put perfectly. She was like first time somebody in Sewden just admit it. Luckily, luckily for you, your name and your last name. So I like something about getting easier, like most easy job. And that’s I think the everyday racism also shapes us. And and that’s the big problem. And the picture, I mean, not a big problem. It’s like it’s an old problem.

So your name grants you certain privileges in a way, compared to other refugees?
Of course. Like when I lived in like a racist commune in Villinger, my name Alex and my last name, Mamytov, which sounds pretty Russian, so. They were pretty happy to find some sort of like heritage of mine, like connecting to them, I guess. Yeah. And some in explaining to us that. Oh yeah, I can catch up learning languages like language faster or something like, you know, like sort of being accepted, being like allowed to go to and being considered as a good immigrant.

Yeah. Yeah.
But it’s like.

Yeah that’s really interesting.
But it’s like not many people admit to that. But I also saw it, I also saw it in many places. It was of course both ways, because what was more difficult for me is that when people of color. Color like would not sort of like see me as a person of color, you know. If it comes to white people like yellows, mellow, you know, like it’s more like, OK, like it these are hard workers or like intelligent people, you know. All of these still like ideas of racism. But at the same time, it made, it better, like, I think it made me better as a person.

And in what way?
So, I guess now I can connect to people. I can relate why people are angry sometimes and do stupid things.And I also can like I’ve met so many people, for instance, very conservative, proud, practicing Muslims, and yet knowing about me. Yet they were like, we will still give each other handshakes and hugs, like, salaam aleikum. And that’s the I think that was like that’s the best, the best game of this years. And it’s just like maybe because we were taken out of that, you know, they did that cluster, and now in a new place where a person actually can be more relaxed.

Yeah, they can grow.
They can like yeah. Because they have more space to be themselves without having to feel defensive or feel on alert all the time. And that was like, that’s with my friend. We talk like actually just today about that. How he felt in the beginning, like when he came and he learned that it’s like he has to share the same space with LGBTQ people and, you know, like how they like act super conservative at the same time,  like this just.

Talking about good things. You know, you said it was one of the best things about moving here. What…what are some good things you do in life these days that bring you joy, that make you happy?
I share the information, I like it. And that’s the thing. Like what makes me happy is that apparently it’s also a feeling that I started settling actually. I feel like I know more or less how to, like, have a day to day life.I got sort of, like, I feel like I’m more like insider than before. And it’s like the communication culture is very important. It’s not enough, like to know to speak English even although, like, that’s a big privilege, you know that.

Of course.
And even then, like the culture of communication here, it’s like so much different than, for instance, in America. Because like, I used to hang out with Americans, like pretty straightforward people.

Yeah.
With my culture of being pretty straightforward. So imagine how many challenges I faced here. So like not being able to be politically correct or like diplomatic enough.

So have you noticed a gradual…like have you noticed a change from the time you came here compared to now?
Yes.

In what sense? How would you describe that?
I mean, like, if I look at the outside, I think it became tougher, much tougher for refugees and immigrants in general.

For you personally?
For me personally, it’s very difficult for me to judge, because I have to tell you one thing. I often face an experience like “homonationalist”.

Homonation?
Homonationalis, you know like when it’s just like homo nationalism.

Homo, OK. Yeah.
So like when like, you know, like we don’t want to like queer refugees is ok, you know, gay is ok, but the rest can go to hell. So like. And of course, like, they assume that you are a better refugee or a better immigrant or a better suitable or in need of more help. And that was like the paradox, because where I come from, I had to, I had to fight a lot for the basic right. And here, like what I see is just basically it’s. What I see is just like being still being outlined as a group or is because of my, let’s say, belonging to the LGBTQ groups. And then I see, like at the same time, how are people treated when they don’t have so many, let’s say, privileges? So like in this, because it’s unjust and it’s another type of racism.

Yeah.
But like, unfortunately, like, OK, I benefited from it a few times, but I don’t feel like it’s I don’t feel comfortable with that because like that’s the thing. Like I feel like if somebody is harassed just because they look more like they look Muslim at the same time, me like walking, like being in the similar position, I don’t get harassed. They are not only interested, like, every, like, there were a couple times when, like, I was in a situation when police asked for my ID. Both times they were so nice. At the same time, I saw how they were treating my friends, like, who are also like activists, like, you know, like nice people. Yet they can be thrown to the ground just because they have they are Muslims or they look like Muslims.That’s the. And then you feel I feel like, OK, that was exactly what was happening to me back home. But this happened. It’s just like because of one I don’t know, because people like put us in the boxes.

We kind of categorized and put in.
Yeah. Like but it’s because like that’s the thing. But it’s another form of oppression in my opinion. Like isn’t it like saying. Isn’t it like the gold so-called like when people can live together in diversity. But unfortunately what I see around especially, especially the last two years, I think three, two, maybe even three years when I came to Sweden. How it was and how it feels now walking on the street. I started paying attention to, like, how police, how people react on people, how. Because people from my region, like from Russian speaking region a lot who come back like we have to run for life because of dictator regimes. At the same time, it’s like many are devoted Muslims. At the same time they come here and they what they get is like shocking because it’s. Yeah, like it’s.

How does that make you feel?
Angry? Like, first it was like weirded out. But as soon as I started realizing that, OK, it’s safe for me and it feels good at the same time, like I know that it feels good only because I don’t have a beard, you know, like I don’t look like I don’t it just that’s the thing.Profiling just because the way you look.

So you feel?
Angry, upset

You see a lot of the things, you know, that happened back home in Kyrgyzstan in a different shape here?
Yeah.

The same feelings.
Yeah. Because racism is still, like it’s still, like, as violent and as damaging. It’s homophobia, transphobia and like gender discrimination. Like we talked about it with some of my friends because I experienced both.So yeah.

Talking about, you know, comparing Kyrgyzstan and everything. So if you if you don’t look at the extremism, you know, men in general. Like how do you, how do you feel today? Like being this far away from Kyrgyzstan? Family, friends, culture, or, you know, people that you grew up with or anything like?
That was very difficult in the beginning. And it’s like it’s still not easy sometimes because like when I’m asked, you know, they think they have these forms: whom should we call in case of emergency? And that’s not fun when you realize that you actually have no one’s name to put in.And that makes you a little bit anxiety. And then, like, you know, the holidays which you used to celebrate, they for some reasons, they don’t taste the same holidays and like birthdays are not so such a big deal as before. But at the same time, it’s just OK, it’s a new life for me. I just like I just want this new like this as many, it’s been a struggle for me until this year, to be honest.

Until this year?
Yes, because it also depends on which place you are. You leave it.

So where you live?
Like in like in like not in any country but even the town commune. Like if we would talk about the local living in this town, like in my mom, I started receiving more over support than help and proper, including proper psychological like help.

When you came here first, you didn’t live in Malmo?
I lived in Malmo, but it was like I wasn’t. I didn’t have a right to get take all the psychological care, for instance.So like, it was only for the, only for emergencies. So it was quite challenging. But the thing is right now, it is it is like a lot of things are getting more or less clear. There are still challenges, but there still are also opportunities.And the only you know what like what worries me is that not everyone will have or gets access to this.It’s a lot of times it’s a matter of how people perceive you.

Yeah.
And a lot of times, like I face at least two times when I was directly told to be grateful, like as an activist, getting support from other activists and then when facing, like, racism.And I always had this, like, strong position, like being vocal about what’s wrong and when you confront it. And then you basically said to be like you’re accused of being ungrateful. Sorry. They were like, yeah, you like I think you don’t understand how many challenges or how many risk we’re taking by supporting you. At the same time, they fixed salary, full term salary to a white person who like who works now, like on my region. So they basically benefit.They, they, they buy their apartments coincidentally, all white. Coincidentally, they didn’t believe me. Coincidentally, they told me that if I have if I don’t stop talking about racism, they will have to pull off their support. And of course, being me. Being me, yes, we Russians are can be can go very hard. I showed the middle finger and told them off. And like said, they will not say this. I think that, like, those people shaped me in being like my identity, but, you know, added to my little person of color. And the same thing happened like like a year later with another organization. So, you know, like, I feel ambivalent about that. Sometimes I’m in the mood to tolerate this crap. And so, yeah, I can play great, grateful refugee. And sometimes I just want to say, oh, just like, stop it.

So do you think that the old you when you were younger, before you came here, could you ever have imagined that you would go through, you know, the situations and, you know the the things you’ve gone through to be where you are today?
I don’t think so. I don’t think so. I thought I was, like, pretty naïve and pretty. I would say when you have a high opinion, like, I thought that it will not happen to me, but it happened like because it was like, OK, like, it’s it’s like I didn’t actually like when I was brought here, I didn’t think much, but they just knew that there’s going to be an activist circle. And I was part of it.

Why didn’t you think that it would happen to you?
Like, not that I could think much at that time, because at that time be like I was in I was having regular panic attacks and anxiety. And so it was a complete mess.But also like, how would I even, how would I even imagine being judge the judge just because of you’re refugee, you know, and you are not what? I thought that like all my life I was judged just because I’m different, because I’m a trans person and a lot of people, when they hear about it, that we’re happy to see you here and so on and so on. But at the same time, it’s just like so much. The feeling you person gets the feeling of pain and being hurt only like everyday racism, it’s just like as hurting as like bullying of queer persons.

So. What do you think? How are you able to handle, like all the struggle?
You know, I like. Not that I like. I don’t hesitate to tell my opinion about stuff in most cases and in some cases is just. That’s the thing, I get angry, I get hurt, then I want to do something about it and like before going to bed or waking up, sometimes I wonder.Like how much of this of these artificial division, you know, like this like separation, like categorizing how much of this crap like I had in my head before and apparently like and I have to now do this revision to check up if I still have it, because I still can catch myself up on, like on something. It’s really weird extremes. What do you like. I like this journey. I mean, I didn’t thought I would prefer to learn it the other way around. To be honest, it’s quite hard.

As you lived you learned.
Of course. In Sweden yes. You like them. I mean, like and when I talk to my friends, it’s everywhere.

So you were. It’s not like those strengths and the things that you had, you know, that made you go through all this. It’s not something you think you know that you had. It’s not a mechanism or something that resilience that will go through everything. Was it something that you had at a very young age or this is something you picked up as you?
I think it’s like I think I picked it up in a young age. Because I had to. Maybe that helped me also to keep speaking about it, to keep like talking, because it’s also tiring, you know.

Yeah.
To think and it’s like draining when like you like when facing these kind of obstacles.

Do you think…you said earlier. You said that your life has become a lot better now and the recent times when you moved last time. I think it’s because of the collective, but.
Because of the of the attitude, because of the. I think it depends also on the like. I’m getting help now for my PTSD. I feel like less hated because for one half year they carry hatred was something like, you know, these bad looks like was something I had to do on a daily basis.And that was challenging and maybe also just Maybe look like I’m trying to learn to live the way that I do it, like, you know, like live the way I had no chance. I didn’t have a chance before I learned doing stuff like that. And I always wanted to do. But I always kept, like, postponing because of fear or because of.

How does that make you feel right now, having that mindset?
A little bit scared, a little bit excited, a little bit of everything, a little bit. I think a big part of being refugee is like. For us for some time, for quite a long time, your life sort of stops and we have to put it on pause and wait. In the like in the waiting time is like in my case was like two and a half years, which. And now I want to catch up with today.

So you’ve talked a little bit about your home country, and so can you talk a little bit more about, you know, the reasons you left for, if you have any? You said you mentioned activism and you mentioned that you were, you know, working with groups for human rights and trans rights and religious reasons as well.
I would say like it’s like I used to think it’s about a religious thing, but now I think it’s about. They’re being demonized, you know, it’s it has nothing to do, neither with the religion, it’s all about politics. It’s about politics of dividing and finding it any scapegoat, you know, scapegoat and. Like it was like it was because I was too open, too loudand. It was. Sooner or later, you come to the understanding, the more the more you work in this field, that the more you see in some points. Like in some moments of my life, it wasn’t like I chose not to be publicly out anymore for some time. And I tried and I saw how, you know, just to explore also my other sides of identity, because it’s not like I think about that. I think that I’m trans every day, every second, like I have to think about it when it comes to safety tips and so on. But it was different. You see what happens. And that’s the thing. Like when if you care and if you see what happened and you do nothing, it will keep happening. It’s just.

So how do you, if you look back at those times, like, what was your, how did you feel it times like what was your mental state where you hope for your dreams, where, you?
No, I didn’t have any dreams. Like back at home I didn’t have any long term plans or long term dreams. It was something that I well always was scared of. You know, it’s like I never had like ten years plans, you know, where I went, where I see myself in ten years from now.

Can you go into that?
Oh, I actually never thought that I don’t have it, but then was a friend of mine once asked me and I don’t even remember this talk. But I remember that she, like, I remember what she told me later that it shocked her that when she asked me where I see myself in 10 years from now, like from then I apparently told her, I don’t think I will like I will make it that long. So, like, you know, like I have to. I have to try to do as much as I can because I don’t know, and it wasn’t like something like self-sacrifying. It was just stating the setting, the how say? stating the..

Obvious?
…obvious, yeah.

So how do you how do you feel about that now? Like, how do you think about it these days now? You compare your mindset and your current state compared to what it was like in Kyrgyzstan?
Yes, I think, like, I think I just said that what I’m trying to learn right now is that life is not only about fight all the time, and that safety is not something that theoretically, you know, like is available.So it’s at the same time, I don’t know, like I just feel like I didn’t cope with it well. It was like so so stress. And then you fight, you fight your fight. And then at some point you either get burnt out or you have to also become like, you know, rougher as a person. In any case, it’s not good.

Is there a specific events that you think back to when you think about those times that affected you more then?
Yeah surprisingly, you know, like I was attempted to be killed, like how say, people that tried to kill me. And a couple of times I was hit by a car and then was like beaten up and abused.And, you know, all of it was like the.

Why would they?
Well, because, like, first of all, for my extended family and that the system of values works this way, that people are left with nothing, just with their pride, you know, they feel a sense of the honor. And when when you take everything off person again, you lift this person on because we all need to feel something like that. We are like worth because at least like we belong to this group or something. And when people have nothing to live, like, then anything can be like they are angry and they will take out this anger in an ambitious way, like.

So the hatred came both from the family and, you know, from.
Yeah, from my extended family, I would say.

Yeah, um. Do you still, you know, experience some of the, you know, results of that hate and the events that happened back then, now?
Yes. I think so. I mean, I don’t experience that much of it now, but it’s still there and it will take some time for me. Like there’s a lot to work on. But about the about family hatred. It wasn’t what made me to to escape, it was because I stopped, I think I was finished as I gave all I could to the movement, to the.

Say you gave up or..?
No I wouldn’t say I gave up. As I gotta say, I was finished as I didn’t feel any strength to go home. I don’t think that I would. Like activism is also very political and very personal. And unfortunately, we have ups and downs and unfortunately, like as in any group of persons, some interactions are. Like, not as smooth as you think.

Yeah, it’s really interesting.
I just like telling you, like I am against double standards. That’s what broke my heart and I’m against all people lying and manipulating because I believe that if I claim that something is important to me, like I should not be the one who actually does say.

So back then, when you look back at those times, did you have any dreams for the future? You said you didn’t plan for ten years ahead, but did you have any ambitions for yourself or did you have any goals?
No not really.

Nothing? You were living in the moment.
Yeah, it’s like I didn’t think about I don’t know, I like I didn’t think about my future the way I think about it now.

So what were some of the places that, that, you know, you found support and strength back in those times? You remember?
A few of my friends, activists also remaining on my side, my mom.

Your mom supported you?
My mom was. She would she let me do what I feel like to do. It wasn’t maybe supportive, but it was yes, it was supportive in her way. My mom is a person who never had the right or her own voice. So like the way she could support these just became with me and, you know, taking care of me as much as possible.I think that in my family, my nuclear family, despite the we had like a lot of difficulties, but that’s the support they had.

So as you went through everything that was going on back in those days, what kind of coping mechanisms, you know, did you pick up?
Oh, it was very bad coping mechanism and healthier lifestyle. At some point.

In what sense?
It’s like I started I became a heavy smoker, really heavy smoker.Sometimes it would be up to two packs a day of cigarets. Last year it was. I drank a lot back then. And I think it was like, I don’t know, fear and not knowing what will happen tomorrow or like to say it’s more precisely being scared that something bad will happen tonight or today.

Did you do develop any positive coping mechanisms from this?
I think so. I mean like there have been so many stories I’ve heard that I didn’t even feel. Maybe some people were like you made out of stone. It was like, no, like maybe it’s it’s maybe it’s bad, but it’s als o good.

Maybe that’s what you needed at the time.
Like the urge, urge to act, you know, and to try at least to do something. And that was like maybe that’s the and also seeing the changes. Like, you know, like when you see the result. It might not be like when I dreamed that, like the only thing I remember of dreaming really like pretty a lot about it was that we will find a way to make it possible legal gender market change. And it happened. We did succeed and. Yeah, like yeah. It’s like know and there’s like I still like. And also seeing how many more like trans guys like coming out trying to live their life own life and then later on admitting that it changed their lives. It changed the way they they saw reality. When I spoke up and spoke out from the position of rights, human rights, and I was like, I think that’s like this kind of inspiration and they make you they make you go.

So,  again, looking back at, you know, when you were young, living in Kyrgyzstan and everything that you’ve you’ve gone through a lot of new things, a lot of, you know, parts of you have changed in these times. What things of yourself have stayed the same in your mind and your habits?
The lessons my mom taught me.And not stealing like not say no if somebody needs help and you have a chance or maybe you have some little source or.

Your morals.
Yes, that’s like a lot of my values, my morals. Basically, my family brought me up and I just found myself in the place.Oh, yeah. I have to tell thank you to my parents.

So. We have got one or two more questions, let’s see. Do you think you said it before, you know, you didn’t have too much of an outview , like of the future 10 years ahead? Like, how do you see yourself and being in the position now? How do you see the coming years or yourself by 10 years? How has that changed?
Like, of course, it changed. Its, I sort of got used to I’m getting used to feel safe. It’s a different way. It’s fine with me to walk. But even here it was for a while a challenge for me to get out because I was so terrified that I was. And now I think that’s OK. I can do like I can start maybe now taking steps to rebuild myself. Get on good terms with myself and now I have a dream. I want I want to be able to connect to my family again. I want us to become friends, and because I’m now here, they don’t have to be under this constant pressure of me speaking up and being shame and so on, like.

Well, I really appreciate everything you told me it was. Is there anything else that you want to add to you know, everything that we’ve talked about? Maybe something that can, you know, help, you know, the people who live in Europe. Maybe understand, you know, your situation, other refugee situations, some of little more.
I think, like, they make it easy to understand if you go to, if you just try to imagine what it feels when you have to lose all your life, leave it behind and seek and how say run for life. It’s not like I don’t think that it’s an easy decision for anyone to make. Just completely like starting like starting from scratch basically again.And I think that, like, as soon as a person, like, imagines what would happen if tomorrow I will have to cross half of the world and try to try to live there. But I don’t know if I even have to explain it. It’s just like maybe like more love, less like being less stressed out about lots of expectations or stereotypes; being more into science and statistics and seeing and the like people the way they are because we are the same breed, like it’s proven. Come on like this is where we all come from Africa. Is just like we are one species. It’s like there are no race is just like, yeah, I don’t know. I just want people to be, you know. Like there have been a lot of good people helping me in Sweden. And I think that if other refugees had, had, like, these kind of people around them, it would make their life much easier. It would make everyone’s life much easier and better because it’s always two ways, right? My friend and I was like, my dream is that those people who are now like asylum seekers or, like, or just gave or they got their papers; that they will meet more of a good people, like more of professionals, more of a humane attitude, and more of a support for both as a refugee in the system.I know that the a lot of money spent, but they’re not spent in the best way possible. You know, like it’s not efficient. But also like, honestly, what I dream of, that refugees will get right to health care. Honestly, a lot of people like would be way less stressed. Like would be more prepared to integrate to get to the society if there was like psychological care, like health care, you know, things like that, more of interaction, because while people are waiting, it’s just like being in the limbo and that limbo creates more like it’s traumatizing by itself.So maybe like just yes, I hope that people will understand that the. It’s just like that it’s so easy to be good and actually normal to each other.

Yeah. Doesn’t take much.
Yeah. No, actually it makes you feel much better about yourself either, right?

It’s good. Yeah. All right. OK, yeah.
No worries.

Thank you.

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.