About Refugees, By Refugees

Portrait of refugee Ali hiding his face with his hands except his left eye and wearing a christmas sweater


Pictures taken in:



Photo and interview by:




Badr Al Ameri

“I found out that you must fight for life in order to reach the place you dream of, regardless of whether you are a refugee or a normal person. The most important thing is to believe in yourself,” says Ali (24). A refugee from Iraq, he fled due to political and religious matters: “It was a very difficult decision to leave your country, to leave your family and the environment in which you grew up. You risk yourself in a deep sea between people who traffic in human beings. There is no law to protect you.” The experience has been very isolating at times, but Ali feels it has given him “a different way of thinking, in order to challenge all future circumstances.” Now living in Athens, his “dreams are self-development to the extent that I can create my own brand” and “build my future on it.” Through this, he wants to help people “who like me were suffering from forced conditions and experienced difficult circumstances, so that they could be recruited and provided with job opportunities.”

Trigger Warning:

full interview

What kind of housing do you live in?
The current residence is a small house on the underground floor, or rather called a basement. This is my current place of residence.

Can you describe the current conditions?
The current conditions, specifically in Greece, are especially bad for refugees. Most refugees are unemployed and have no opportunities. Most refugees are disappointed with the current tragic situation, the presence of the Corona virus and the situation that resulted from it increased their crisis. Therefore, the current time is a very difficult time, as most of the refugees are suffering and live below the poverty line.

Who do you live with?
Right now, I live in a shared house with two friends. We share rent and housing costs together.

How do you spend your time here? Do you work?
At the moment I don’t have a job. Most of my time is between home and sometimes going out with friends or looking for job opportunities if possible.

What are some of the things that bring you happiness?
Sometimes small things bring happiness. They may be news that gives you hope for life, such as job opportunities (if any), spending a little time with friends who give you joy and support you in your ordeal and in the difficult time you are going through. This is sometimes happiness.

How has life been since you arrived in Europe? What is the good thing about being here? And what are the difficulties you have faced?
In fact, the beginning of the journey to Europe was a shock, because of what we heard and what we actually saw, so it was very difficult. In the first year, we lived in camps in very small tents. At that time, things were very difficult, especially in the winter and freezing cold, with some decisions made against refugees at that time, as you are being held without any access to you by the media and who can deliver your message. This has continued till after the year 2018, decisions have become positive in terms of residency and permits.

How can you describe how you feel about this thing that happened to you? 
Sometimes the feeling is very difficult to explain because of the situations and circumstances in which you live. Sometimes you go through very difficult situations and you are disappointed to the point of despair, and sometimes you are happy with simple things like getting an asylum permit, but after the asylum permit is the uncertain future, so this is an indescribable feeling. Since you are living as a refugee, all opportunities are closed to you. You try as much as possible to live your day with the simplest possibilities.  

What is the feeling of being away from the rest of your family or not belonging to a home?
It is the same as when you are outside your home country. You feel homeless or have no one to receive you. I remember one day sitting on the mountain and I had a strange feeling seeing the whole city in front of me. I used to tell myself that all people are alive, all people are at their homes except me exiled outside my home. I have no place. It was a strange feeling to live as a stranger, exiled from your place, from the environment in which you grew up, from the family that supported you all the time. 

Do you consider this a stain on your history as a human being?  
I consider it a positive stigma in terms of the amount of experiences I’ve had, the amount of stages I’ve been through. But on the other hand, there are the memories that you yearn for and other memories that you lived in your country, which are a bad stigma in your life because of what we suffered from persecution and what we went through, but the experience of coming to Europe laden with worries, with wounds, and with things that threaten your life and then going through a very difficult stage, the stage of fighting to live – in my personal opinion, I consider it an experience that taught me a lot.

Have you ever imagined that you would be able to deal with such difficult situations? Or have you built a mechanism or strategy to deal with these situations?
In fact, I never imagined and never thought about these things. But when you are forced to live with these conditions, you must move from within to adapt and develop to the situation in which you live, but it was shocking at first, and then I used to resist everything I faced.

Do you think you’ve developed the ability to deal with such challenges, or do you think you’ve always had that skill, strengths, mechanism and flexibility?
Honestly, I have a mechanism to adapt to any society I live in, but circumstances sometimes force you to lose hope or live in a tragic situation, but your ability from within to motivate yourself to create hope for yourself gives you the motivation to always adapt to everything you will face.

How has the Corona virus affected you in terms of your daily life? Your mood, feeling, well-being?
Corona virus has not affected me personally only but has affected the whole world, but in terms of job opportunities becoming very few, life is almost non-existent. Bad news is circulating everywhere. It has certainly had a negative impact on me as on others, but sometimes I used it for self-development, for example, learning new skills, learning new things that will benefit me in the future. in the time where most of the people were afraid of bad news and the spread of the virus. I received a certificate from Google in the field of e-marketing. What I mean is that it has had negative and other positive things on the other hand.

Why did you leave your country? Can you describe what happened?
It can be described briefly for political reasons and opinions as well as religious matters. 

How did you feel at the time?
It was a very difficult decision to leave your country, to leave your family and the environment in which you grew up, to risk traveling by sea. You are not sure whether you can pass or not, as your survival rate at best is fifty percent you might live, and fifty percent you might die. It was a very difficult experience, but in the end I got through it.

How was the trip to Europe? Is there a particularly difficult experience you can tell us about?
Of course, it was a very difficult journey and a unique experience, as you risk yourself in a deep sea between people who traffic in human beings. There is no law to protect you. It was a very difficult experience. 

What is the feeling you can tell us about during this journey?
The feeling can be described as fear. Besides being unsure, do you have hope to live a different life or not? What I mean is that passing the sea is the most difficult stage you can face in your life. Because you will be in front of death.

Do you think about these events a lot? Are there any special things you think about a lot?
At the moment or before, I didn’t think much about these things because when you’re in a difficult situation you tend to forget the things that came before.

Does the situation you have faced affect you today?
Of course, the situation I faced affected me, affected my future plans, affected my psyche from within, because of the amount of negative things I have experienced, so I certainly still have this energy.

Can you ever imagine that you would be able to deal with this situation?
I don’t think so, because my life before I was a refugee was a good life without any negative things or pressures. I couldn’t imagine it.

How did you survive? Did you have a mechanism to face and overcome difficult times or memories? Where do you find strength and support?
At the beginning of the journey towards Europe, memories played a very, very big role and charged me with negative energy and despair, but as the days passed by and experiences passed, I had to struggle to live. I found out that you must fight for life in order to reach the place you dream of, regardless of whether you are a refugee or a normal person. The most important thing is to believe in yourself and to face all the circumstances that face you; this motivation I used to rely on is the basis of my character.

Before the event that caused you to run away from home, what was your dream?
My dream was to finish my university studies, start working in the major I specialized in and to help people, especially in the medical field in which I used to work. My dream was to help patients and help humanity in the field of medicine. After leaving home, it became my dream to settle in a place and environment that would provide me with life, through which I can start to see myself and be able to use my abilities, but what I found was the opposite, the environment I faced was very difficult, as there were no possibilities for developing myself.

When you left your home, what was your dream for the future at that time?
I dreamed of finding myself in communities, living like other people who live in Western communities, having a job, having a house, having shelter, living as a normal person without any fears and without any problems. This was my dream, a simple dream, so I do not want to become a very wealthy person, also I do not want to become a poor person – all I want is to live like everyone else.

Before leaving your home country, what were your strengths? And have you maintained these strength points? If so, how? And if not, why? 
My strengths were the persistence in studying, exercising, the joy the family gives you, the atmosphere at home. These were the strength points of my life. However, I have lost perseverance in studying. Sometimes friends are good and sometimes not, because not all people are good for you. In fact, I didn’t keep all the points except friends, but sometimes I read the important information I find. I start reading and adding new information to develop myself, which I consider to be one of the strengths I have at the moment.

What you have been through seems really difficult. Do you feel that you have matured or grown in any way through or as a result of this experience? 
According to what I have experienced and the experiences I have passed, I have matured to the extent that it has made me very strong and has given me a different way of thinking in order to challenge all future circumstances. One of the reasons for which I have matured is the circumstances I have experienced.

Great. What are your hopes or dreams for the future now?
My dreams are self-development to the extent that I can create my own brand, build my future on it and create a future life. Through this brand, I can develop myself. I can help people who were in need, who like me were suffering from forced conditions and experienced difficult circumstances, so that they could be recruited and provided with job opportunities. This is what I have in mind now and what I’m working on in the future.

Do you think if you have this thing, your brand? Do you think it will change your life?
It will definitely change my life and change the lives of many others, because the basis of the idea is to adopt refugees in this brand as a part of the project. Because of my experiences, I found that many refugees suffer from a lack of job opportunities, so using their energies and exploiting the minds they have will result in a great effectiveness in contributing to the success of the brand.

We appreciate your answer to all of these questions. Is there anything you would like to add that might help people in Europe better understand refugee life?
The European community should understand that most refugees are those who have experienced forced torture, trauma, setback in their lives, or experienced difficult circumstances that led to their departure from their country of origin. They did not come here looking for money or looking for something else, but in order to have a decent life for them. The European community must understand that these refugees came from a closed society, a society that has taken away all their rights, a society that depends on gagging and taking away opinions. A very large percentage of refugees have huge mentalities and great minds. They have high morals. They grew up on valuable grounds, so sometimes if some refugees make mistakes in individual actions, that doesn’t mean that everyone is the same. Therefore, a distinction must be made between a good person or a person who has individual characteristics. Thus, it can be said that most refugees deserve a life without any racial discrimination and without any deprivation of rights. At present, as a refugee, I believe that most of my rights have not been granted to me. Some people also believe that refugees belong to terrorist organizations, parties or communities in third countries as underdeveloped communities. So I think they should accept us as human beings with humanity. We came here to live in dignity. We do not need anything else, just to protect our lives. We are not dependent on anyone, as we are capable of doing all different types of things, such as working and providing assistance to the European community just to live in dignity. 

Thank you very much.

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.