About Refugees, By Refugees

Atefeh Akbari

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Photo and interview by:




Mahdiyh Haidari

“I feel like I am much stronger than yesterday,” reflects Atefeh Akbari (24). Atefeh and her family left their home in Afghanistan for Iran when she was a baby: “From the time I grew up, I was an immigrant. I don’t know what a homeland is.” As an immigrant, she says, “I was not allowed to think about my dreams and my goals.” Later, her difficult journey from Iran to Europe made her doubt whether she would survive. It was only “by thinking about the future and the goals that I had, the dreams that I had” that she was able to find the “power to be able to overcome these problems.” Since arriving in Europe, she has faced challenges, including living in a camp. Currently in Greece, Atefeh lives in an apartment with her family and spends her days volunteering and taking a photography class. She has finally gotten one step closer to her dreams: “My dream is to become a big artist. And I always think about becoming an artist. I left my country with this goal in mind and came to Europe.”

Trigger Warning: Violence

full interview

Can you please introduce yourself?
I am Atefa Akbrai, 24 years old, from Afghanistan. 

In what type of house do you live?
In a house.

Can you explain its condition like what kind of place it is?
It is an apartment with three rooms and two neighbors.

Who do you live with?
With my family, father, mother and my younger brother.

How do you spend your time here? What do you do?
I work in a charity organization in the morning and attend photography class in the afternoon and go to Greek school after that.

What makes you happy? What makes you happy?
Others’ happiness. To see other people’s happiness and smile. 

How has your life been from the time you came to Europe? How has it been?
Very hard. Life in Europe has been very hard until now because I have been into difficult situations, especially living in a camp.

What has been good for you and what has been bad? Can you explain it?
The experiences that I have gained from my classes, especially my photography class and getting familiarised with ‘Refocus’ and also I can spend most of my time here by doing the things that I like such as painting, and … these two things have been the best things that I have experienced here.

Can you explain what type of feeling living here has given you? What is your feeling from the time you have come to Europe?
What was the question?

How does living here make you feel? How do you feel?
I feel like I have gotten one step closer to my dreams. I have overcome the difficulties of the way, I have overcome the difficulties of living in a camp, and only one problem has remained and that is to leave this island. That will also pass. 

What type of feeling is being far from your family and home created in you? How has being far from family and home affected you?
I am not far from my family. My family is with me and I am happy from this aspect. It is not a bad feeling.

Would you ever think to be able to overcome this situation? How could you conquest these problems and cross them over?
I had never thought of getting into such a situation. And I am very happy to be able to overcome this situation. I feel like I am much stronger than yesterday.

Do you think that you have gained the strength to fight against these challenges or you always had these skills?
I had not faced such challenges yet and would not think I would have such challenges. Now that I have faced these challenges, I feel like I have gained the strength to stand against these challenges since I have been able to overcome them successfully. 

How has Corona affected your daily life, your morale and your emotions?
One of the negative things in my life was Corona and wearing a mask and life has changed a lot by living with Corona. The limitations on commuting, limitations or gatherings, has had a negative impact on my morale. 

Why did you leave your country? Can you explain what happened?
There was war in my country Afghanistan and there was no security. That is why we left our own country. 

Can you explain further what happened?
Can I not answer this question?

How were you feeling that time?
On the smuggling trip?

How were you feeling when you left your country?
Well, I was an infant that time and when I got older, I was in another country. I was not in my own country and I don’t know what living in my own homeland feels like. From the time I grew up, I was an immigrant and I was always on immigration. I don’t know what a homeland is, what it looks like, how living in homeland feels like. 

How was your trip to Europe? Do you have any special difficult experiences that you would like to talk about?
One of my horrible experiences has been travelling to Europe. We passed a difficult journey. Spending very difficult and cold nights in the mountains without food, without warm clothes, and getting trapped by the thieves, being arrested by the soldiers and shooting towards us, it was a very bad experience. It was the most horrible experience that I have had so far.

What was your feeling at that time?
That time, I was feeling that my life has come to an end here and I cannot get out of this situation alive. And I was not even thinking of being able to reach my destination and I am in Europe now.

Do you mostly think about these incidents? When do you think about those incidents?
I always and every time think about these incidents and I get more motivated and become stronger by being able to pass all those difficulties and hard times. 

Is there any specific time to think about those incidents or not?
No, there is no specific time. It is always in my mind and I never forget these experiences.

How do you feel when you think about them?
When I think about them … I am happy that I have overcome those incidents. When I think about it, I feel like I have become a strong girl. 

Does the situation that you have faced today affect you? How?
The impact that this situation had on me was to make a strong girl out of me.

Would you ever think to be able to overcome this situation?
Ahh, No, never. When I got into that situation, I was not thinking that there would be any tomorrow but I finally succeeded and overcame it.

How could you get rid of these problems? Did you have any strategy? Where could you get your strengths and support to fight against it?
By thinking about the future and the goals that I had, the dreams that I had, I was thinking about them and … it was giving me power to be able to overcome these problems. 

What was your dream before the incident that made you escape and leave your house? What were your dreams before you wanted to leave your country and your home?
I have not lived in my own country. We were immigrating continuously. Life was very hard in Iran as an immigrant. There, an immigrant was not allowed to … As an immigrant, I was not allowed to think about my dreams and my goals. 

What was your dream for your future the time you were leaving your house? The time you came to Europe.
I have always loved art.

Start with “My dream is …”.
My dream is to become a big artist. And I always think about becoming an artist. I left my country with this goal in mind and came to Europe.

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.