About Refugees, By Refugees

Portrait of refugee Aram with his arms folded looking down

Aram Shariati

Pictures taken in:



Photo and interview by:

United Kingdom



Zozan Yasar

One part is you always asking yourself why it happened to you. And another part is, you are feeling hopeful because youare at least far from the government, and they cannot kill you,” says Aram Shariati (33), an asylum seeker from Kurdistan. He explains how he shared videos with a journalist which the government had kept from the public. When they found out, he was forced to flee. The journey to the UK was terrible:“It’s like playing with your life.”Aram is living in Glasgow while his asylum claim is processed. People there are “very nice” but not being allowed to work is difficult:It makes me so depressed because I’m not that kind of people who are staying at home. I used to work, I used to communicate.” Aram has developed thyroid cancer“It was unbelievable […] I’m just 33 years old and I’m sure it’s just because of the stress.”But thoughts of his family and hopes of working again motivate him “My dream is living in a small city, with good people, a normal job… Just that.”

Trigger Warning: Suicide

full interview

Okay, that’s recording. Hi Aram, thank you so much for joining our Witness Change project. So now I’m gonna ask you some questions, and some basic questions and things like about your situation, and where you live. What kind of housing do you live in?
I mean, I’m living in a flat, which is so far from the city center. A little bit old. But it’s nice, it’s nice. However, there is some difficulties for me because of, for example, it’s a little far from the shopping center, from the city center, which is one of the beautiful parts of Glasgow, because I like to see the activities of the people that are going and coming. I like that.

Why do you think the house is like that much, for they give you this? It’s a council house, right?
It’s maybe a council house. I’m not sure it’s, but the contract, the agreement is between me and Mears housing.

So yeah, why do you think they are putting refugees that much from the city center? Do you think is there any isolation from the center, or?
No, I think they don’t care. I know somebody who lives in the city center, also as an asylum seeker, but for me … however, I asked them to give me an accommodation close to city center because of my sickness. I need to go to hospital, and here …

What’s your sickness?
Thyroid cancer.

I’m so sorry to hear that. Get well soon. Can you describe the conditions, you described a bit, you said it’s good, but if you want to detail that, I’m happy to hear that from you.
Detail about?

Describe the housing conditions.
Totally, it is not bad because it’s temporary house and, but, for example [pause] I’m that kind of person who cares about energy. So one of my problems is the windows of this flat, it’s too old, and I need to turn on the radiators to always keep the house warm, so this is one of my problems. And the flooring also is too old and it makes sounds when I’m walking and I’m sure downstairs, they don’t like that [laughs]. No way.

Probably. Who do you live with?
I live with a guy who also he’s from Kurdistan, he’s from Bashur and, yeah.

So how do you spend your time here? Do you work?
No, I’m not allowed to work, and I usually stay at home, at least five days a week. And I have applied for an ESOL course so I spend my time 4 days a week, each day 3 hours, studying English. And after that, if I feel okay, I try to study more. Otherwise nothing much I have to do, just play with phone, music.

Is it bad that you’re told that you’re not allowed to work here?
Yes, yes, yes. I’m … it’s very bad. It makes me so depressed because I’m not that kind of people who are staying at home. I used to work, I used to communicate with people, make friends. So it’s really hard for me, that I’m not allowed to work.

What are some of the things that bring you joy, make you happy here? Is there anything that you want to say? Tell us.
Make me happy here? I think the only things that make me happy right now is my friends, which I can meet them sometimes, maybe one day a week. This is the only things that I think make me happy. I have nothing much.

How has life been since you arrived in Europe? And what has been good about being here or what has been difficult being about here?
It’s already about 8 or 9 months I’m here. And [pause] there is so many difficulties, of course, because I’m worried about the future. I have no plans because I don’t know this country well. I know my abilities, but I don’t know the country’s abilities. I mean, what can I do in future? And get the papers. Get the papers is also important for me, because you know it’s very hard when you are not allowed to work because of that, when you don’t have a bank account, because of the papers, and so many things.

Can you describe how living here has made you feel? About your feeling.
In general, UK, especially Glasgow, is fine. I’m happy with that because the people are very nice. They are … you don’t feel strange with the people in Glasgow. So I think it’s fine and I think it will be more better and better in future.

How does being away from the rest of your family, home, make you feel and how does the feeling of not belonging or discrimination or stigma impact you? Can you describe?
You mean stay far from my family?

Yes …
It’s really difficult, it’s because I wasn’t in Iran for a few years and after that, I came back to Iran because of my family. And suddenly something happened for me and I had to leave the country, especially without saying goodbye to my family, even my brother which, I … it’s almost 2 years I didn’t see him. It’s really difficult, I … every night I think about them and dreaming, so of course it’s very difficult.

Could you ever have imagined that you would have been able to handle this situation? How have you been able to overcome or survive with all these things happened to you?
I can handle the situation but there is a lot of pressure on me, there is a lot of pressure, because of my family, first. Second, I didn’t have any plan for coming. That’s why it’s hard.

I understand you, it’s really difficult. Do you think that you developed the ability to deal with these challenges or do you think you have always had those skills, strengths, and you were always making the mechanism to struggle, to overcome everything? Like for me and I have, of course like your personality is important, and then things have been through also can make you stronger and like, I have some abilities, but I developed them for example. Like how it’s working for you?
You know, for me, it’s like watching the sky. You cannot see the whole sky, and you cannot imagine what’s going on behind the clouds, behind the other galaxies. For me, also is like that because as I said, I know my abilities, but I don’t know what I can do here in future. But of course I will try to develop and make a plan for the future.

Yeah. I mean like facing difficulties and you develop, for example, to stay strong. Did you have that strongness before, and then you develop that one? Or you learn how to stay strong?
I still think I’m not that much strong for this situation, I’m not strong for this situation, strong enough. But I try to, I’m very stressed, during these months especially. This is one of the reasons which I think it’s because I become sick and get cancer, because of the stress. But I still try to keep going and feel strong.

Let’s talk about COVID a bit. How has COVID-19 affected you in terms of daily life and your mood or feeling, emotions, because you came in the time that COVID-19 started in the UK and many countries, so …
Yes, yes, it was the beginning of the epidemic, and I think because of the coronavirus, I still waiting for the interview. This is one of the problems, the big one. And they kept us in a hotel for four or five months, just because of the COVID-19. At that time, I was new here. I felt very, very stressed about coronavirus because it was something strange, something new, nobody knows what will happen if you get the virus. And it was very hard, especially during those months in the hotel, to keep myself safe. We were about 90 people, including the hotel staff, staying together in the hotel. And the problem was, everybody could go out and come back, and there was nothing to stop the people to going out. So yeah, it was very dangerous for the safety of the asylum seekers in the hotel.

Yeah, I definitely understand because I also stayed in hostel before, conditions are maybe, and then, I don’t think that you can keep [inaudible].
Yeah, it’s very hard.

Okay now, I would like to ask some questions about your past. Why did you leave your country? Can you describe what happened?
I was in contact with one journalist, and I sent him some videos, which was in archive, and belong to the government of Iran. It was very important videos. I don’t know how to say in English, but, the government kept the videos for themselves, not for showing the public, because it was important for them. One of them was, belong to about 11 years ago. And another one it was, belong to almost 30 to 32 years ago. I cannot say more about that. But because of that, finally they found me. They find it out which, I’m in contact with that journalist and …

So were you working in a government department that time?
No. Just because of some relationships in Iran, I’ve got the videos, the tapes and they asked me to send it to the journalist.

So and then, that made you to leave the country.
Of course. If I didn’t leave the country, they hundred percent kill me and executed, yeah. Especially Iran’s government, everybody knows.

And they kill Kurds, every day.
Every day, every day.

How did that make you feel at that time?
Which time exactly?

That you found out you have to leave the country, and then you left.
It was very, very difficult for me, because I didn’t want to leave. I was living in China, and I left China because of my family. I came back to Iran and after that something happened so fast, and I had to leave the country. It wasn’t feel very good.

How was the journey to Europe? Is there any experience that was particularly difficult that you could tell us about? Like your journey from Iran to the UK?
Of course it was difficult. It’s like playing with your life. Nobody knows you will arrive here. Nobody knows what will happen. And you will lose everything, even your life, or not. Like the families four or five days ago, they died in the sea.

Yeah they’re from also Rojhilat.
From Rojhilat, yes.

I’m so sorry for that. How did it make you feel at that time?
During the …

Like making all these decisions, you have difficult journey and how did you feel about this?
You know, it’s like, I [pause], it’s very hard to say, I really don’t know how to say. It’s maybe 2 parts. One part is you always asking yourself why it happened to you. And another part is, you are feeling hopeful because you are at least far from the government, and they cannot kill you. These two parts is totally different together. And for me it’s like a pressure, thinking about that. I don’t know exactly how to explain the feelings.

In somewhere that, you said, you think about it every day. Do you about these events often or when? Is there something in particular you think about often? Like some people think about their difficult journey all the time and they took the boat, when they took the train or the bus, or come, what do you think, like, mostly about? Did you come by boat?
No, no. But now when I go to the jungles, go to the parks, I remember something, and I feel scared. And you know, it was terrible. It was really terrible. But still I try to be hopeful, because at least I’m safe, and far from the government. It’s one of the important things, because of my family – we are very close together with my family, with my parents. So this is very important for them. Sometimes, I can … if I imagine that I catched by the government, and they executed me, what happens to my family?

It’s so sad. We see that every day. For nothing, they kill people and hang people. What do you feel when you think about all these things?
I don’t know. I’m sad. I’m stressed. Maybe most of the stress is because of the family, again. Maybe there is some pressure on them. And it makes me stressed. I’m very stressed. These days I am trying to sleep at night with music, because at least I have tried, at least it makes me don’t dream much, because I have so many nightmares at night. But the music can make me feel calm, and at least maybe by two, three nightmares, I finished that night and start the day.

Sorry. Does the situation you faced affect you today? And if affects you, how? You actually said that you got cancer, and then like all these things happened. How it affect you, your health, your life?
The cancer, it was unbelievable for me, because I’m just 33 years old and I’m sure it’s just because of the stress, and if this stress continue, and I keep going with the stress, maybe in future something worse than cancer will happen for me.

Hopefully not. Cancer is something worse. There is not something worse than cancer. You should be careful, and I’m so sorry for you.
Thank you.

Could you ever have imagined that you would have been able to handle this situation?
No, I have never, I had no idea to come to Europe because I had my own job, my family. I had my own plans in Iran, especially about my job. I didn’t have plans to come here.

Could you ever have imagined that you would have been able to handle this situation? No, I’ve already asked this question. How were you able to survive or get through all these things? Have you created any kind of strategy or coping mechanisms to get through the hard times? And where do you find strength and support? Like so, you’re still alive from all these things happening, what really makes you strong about that one? To overcome all difficulties and all these memories. And I see you’re still living and then you’re still in this situation.
The only reason which keeps me strong, I think it’s my parents. It was two, three weeks ago which I called the doctor and I talked to him. I told him I’m very stressed, and I cannot sleep at night and he talked about killing myself, he said, Do you think about that? I said, Yes. And he said, Do you have any plans for doing that? I said, No, I don’t have plan. And that time also I told him, The only reason to keep me alive is my parents, otherwise I wasn’t alive right now.

Before the event that led you to flee home occurred, what was your dream? And if you talk about your dream, could you please say, “My dream was”?
Which dream, you mean?

Before you left Rojhilat, Kurdistan, what was your dream? Can you say, “My dream was”, when you want to use.
Okay. My dream was staying in Kurdistan with my family, continue my job or develop it, and normal life, like other people. I have never looking for being rich, looking for money, which I could. I had that opportunity to be rich, to make money, more than that I wanted. But I think I lost all of them.

When you were leaving your home, what was your dream for the future?
In home?

Yes, you can say, I dream that.
I dreamed that I buy a nice car for my father, and buy a small apartment for myself, and get married with someone who I love. And continue my job, work, because as I said, I really like to work, I cannot stay home. The job is makes me, working makes me happy. Just that, nothing much.

I dreamed the UK weather will be nice some days [laughs] and then I will wear something good, when there’s sun.
[Laughs] that question was about here or when I was in …

When you left, for example, you left and then you take a journey, and then you dream, something will be good. You know, you dream that Europe will be like that, you dream that you have a nice journey, you dream that you will go and enjoy your life and then you dream that you will be rich …
No, I like to live simple. I don’t like big house, I don’t like very luxurious life and car, just normal.

Okay, good. So, I’m gonna wrap up the questions and then we’re gonna finish the interview. Before leaving your home country, what would you describe as your strengths? Have you maintained this? And if so, how, if not, why? Your strengths, [inaudible] Kurdistan.
I don’t know if it’s a strength or not, but I had very good relationships with people, and so many friends, so many people around me. It was maybe because of a little bit, my personality, and the other thing is, it was because of my job. So, I think that makes me strong.

Good. What have you 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? Say, like you have so many difficult things. And then from your difficulties, about your power, what did you learn from them? For example, did they make you more stronger? Or did they bring you some positive things as well?
I don’t know yet. Of course, any good or bad experience, I think it makes people strong, any good or bad. However, this is one of the bad experience. But in future, maybe if I use that experience, however it’s bad, but that time maybe I love, and I feel stronger than before.

What are your hopes and dreams for the future now? You can say, “My dream is”.
My dream. For the future, my dream is living in a small city, with good people, a normal job and have a happy normal job, happy normal life. Just that.

This is all I have.

I really appreciate you answering all these questions. And is there anything you would like to add that might help people in Europe better understand the life of refugees here?
Not for, I don’t have any message for the refugees.

For European people. How they can understand refugees?
The only thing they can, it’s not the first time I’m talking about that because two, three times before, I talked with some Europeans about the refugees, about the asylum seekers. They cannot imagine what’s going on in our countries, in the Middle East. They cannot imagine that. The only thing is changing our places. And if it was possible they go there and live there for a while, and see the difficulties, and feel it. Unfortunately, some people, they judge us, they think because we pay money to come here, so we are rich and that is totally enough for living in somewhere. And they say, Europe or anywhere else, except Middle East, is not paradise. Of course it’s not paradise, because the paradise is the country who you are from, which you are from, that country is paradise for everyone. They cannot understand that, they can, maybe few of them, just few of them, can understand. Maybe they had some difficulties in their countries before. The old people maybe they can understand more than youngers. But it’s unbelievable if you even stay at home and read the news about somewhere like Iran. If you read or hear news about Kurdistan, it’s unbelievable, you cannot even hear, especially these days, you cannot even hear good news about those countries in the Middle East. Especially I’m talking about Iran because I used to read the news every day. Yes but just, just, don’t judge people, don’t judge refugees.

Thank you. Spas.

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.