About Refugees, By Refugees

Portrait of refugee Berry standing against a brick wall

Berry Shemdin

Pictures taken in:



Photo and interview by:

United Kingdom



Zozan Yasar

“I am strong, but sometimes I’m feeling really tired,” says Berry Shemdin (pseud, 35). For nearly five years, Berry has worked as an actor in London – far from her home in Kurdistan, where she says necessity dictates small girls grow into strong women: “The lives, they’re so hard for Kurdish people, especially Kurdish woman”. London is “colorful” and “cosmopolitan,” but Berry fears forgetting her sense of self. “I felt like I lost my memory,” she says, trying to reconcile her new life with the one she’s lost. “I miss my family, especially my mom.” When she arrived, she felt alone, but she found community among other educated professionals, who also never expected to identify as refugees. “Doctor, actor, journalist… we are under the same sun.” It’s for this diaspora that she hopes to open a Kurdish theater, although her true aspirations are larger. “My big dream was to see an independent Kurdistan,” she says. “I think that… all world will be better.”

Trigger Warning:

full interview

Hi Berry.

Thank you so much for joining our interview and being part of One Thousand Dreams in Witness Change Project, and we’re happy to have you. And now I would like to ask you some personal question and feel free if you not feel if you don’t feel comfortable to not answer them. And first of all, I wanna ask you, what kind of housing do you live in and how it’s look like?
Aaah When I was in Turkey, in Kurdistan, Turkey part, I, I was an actor and I, I met with my mom tongue, my work with my mom tongue, and I work with a HDP party volunteer.

What kind of housing do you live in?
Yeah. Now is good. Before not good. But now, now I’m feeling like with like feeling or.

No, no, (…another language) I live in a house, a one flat house, I live alone.
OK, you want, yeah. Yeah. And I have a one bedroom house and in the center line and it’s no big but not small. For me is enough I think.

How is the conditions or the conditions of the house OK for you to live?
Yeah. And for me is good because it’s a Council house and I’m, I’m feeling safe in my house.

Do you get any support from the council?
Yeah. Yeah.

Who do you live with?
And Universal Credit, universal credit.

No. Who do you live? Are you living alone?
Yeah, I’m alone. I am alone.

OK, um. How do you spend your time here and how how is one of your day look like, for example? What kind of problem did you have about housing?
You know, do you need to wait for the council when they say, yes, it’s home, OK? I waited a long time and I changed too many hostel and terrible hostel with drug people with.. I don’t want to speak.

How does it make you feel? And how did you feel when you had this kind of situation in the past you were waiting so long?
Oh, so bad. Because when I was in Kurdistan, my life is really comfortable and not politic. Yes, but my house, my family house and I, I had every month the I, I take it every month to pay for my job. I have the good job. I had the good job and and went to the concert, I take to the books. So my, my, my life was comfortable but when I came here everything’s the town and my psychology and economy and alone I don’t have a family. Now I have but my family and my friends and I felt like the really what is mean the alone.

Loneliness. Yeah. Yeah. I’m sorry to hear that.
No, that’s ok

And what are some of the things that bring you joy? What makes you happy?

Yeah, generally.
Yeah, generally. I like my job and when I make it, when I work for actor for acting and I feeling the better I think. And when I help for Kurdish people, my community and for example, when I write the articles about arts, Kurds arts and in the world and I feeling the better. Yeah.

You feel better.

That’s good. What kind of articles do you write?
And I write for Kurdish magazines and for example in cinema magazine and like literature.

Yeah, literature. I write about arts, especially Kurdish cinema and theater and about paint.

Yeah, compression in the Western and Eastern especially, I working about that.

Hmm. OK. And yeah, you said that makes you happy and I’m curious about how has been how has life been since you arrived in Europe and? Yeah.

How has life been since you arrived in Europe and how it’s looked like for you, how your life changed, and then what happened to you since you are here in the U.K.?
And before, like every people and the Middle East every people, they say Europe is perfect comfortable, blah, blah. But I didn’t choose that. I like London. But I think for me, life is not important a place and city and country, really. And I like people because but every time I need my memory, like like like I lost my memory and when I came here, really, I lost my memory.

Why and how how do you feel about losing your memory?
You know, I think yes. You know, you. Do you know the Sur (Sur is a Kurdish town in the city of Diyarbakir-Southeast of Turkey- it was destroyed during a conflict between PKK and Turkish State in 2015/2016), my childhood homeland? And when I was a child, I went to the street in the Sur and I saw the before coming here and I saw the bomb attacked and from the Turkish state. And so when I my my buildings, when I burn my buildings, the like down every place that when I was a child walking the street all street down. When I see it in the newspaper photograph, I, I felt like I know I have I have the memory, but I saw when I see the picture on the newspaper in the Sur near my home, my family home, but we can’t to the see the other street because forbidden I, I felt like I lost my memory. I know I have the memory but I can’t, I can’t explain that anythings like that. Yes. I live, I grew up here, I walk, walk up the street and it’s like big complicated like the. I can’t, I can’t explain really.

Do you say that after the Turkish government destroyed your home and then your city? Yeah. So the place where you was born and so you felt that you lost your memory, right. Yeah. And how it’s how does it make you feel?
Do you know every people especially we are actor we we we all the time used the we memory, we body memory, feeling memory and they are with the place we say, we can say the yes. When I was a child I, when I was walking in the street I see the, for example, church next to my home, my burnt building. And you imagine each imagine with the place, with building, with street, with a wall with I don’t know, they are like symbol, memory symbol. When I see the all my symbol, my memories, my from the child, my memories. Like the down (not audible) From the Turkish state, for me is like the really terrible things, I can’t explain this. Mh like. Like I’m live. But I don’t live like that. Sorry and.

I understand if you don’t feel OK…
Yeah, yeah.

We can stop. Do you want to stop? OK, we continue again. And Berry you will find that it makes you really upset and you saw. If you want to explain continuing more and then we can talk about it. .
Yeah. And I want I want to explain because this is really. If if .I don’t know people understand me or not, I know you understand me because we live. And it’s really it’s not easy things. Yes. This war in the Earth every time to continue and people died. Yeah. It’s like the big play. Yes, we know that. But people don’t know what this means. And this is not about people who died. For me is, for me is, building and history and memorise and feeling for me is important than the and. Everything. I don’t know, because when I am talking about myself or for example, talking about my feelings when I act, I all the times I turn my back around, because this for me for me is me. It’s my, it’s my memories, it’s my body, it’s my experience. And if if we don’t have that, we can’t the make a new things like tell, like the design. We can’t now, like, I feel like really like disability, mh.

Any good thing here?
Yes. For example, I, I like London because I feel the free because I see that too many countries like the culture, like the religions. When I see the colorful and I, I mean. No I’m feeling the really good. I said yes, I’m free because like me difference culture difference and religion difference ideology difference gender, difference. What is mean? Everything’s different. But together. I like that. And for me it’s like the good material for my life, for my acting life, maybe.

That sounds good. And what’s been difficult here for you?
It’s difficult because, you know, Kurdistan generally, Kurds people, and yet the different religions, we have the different religions. But this like me, not the. Yes, the colorful but not enough this is like and concentrate Earth, like London for me is like that because I see that too many different.

Do you mean cosmopolitan?
Yet cosmopolitan. Yes, right. Cosmopolitan. So I like that.

OK, good. And how it’s… What, how does it make you feel and how do you feel when you see this and …what is called?… And cosmopolitan place?
And I like that because that I don’t like the just one one color. People for example with characteristics, with culture, with language, with the idea for me, is the cosmopolitan is good. I like that.

OK, I’m just going to move on to another question. How does being away from the rest of your family homeland make you feel?

I know you partly answered some of the questions, but I would like to know something I could hear more from you about that.
Mh my family. When I live with my family.

No, no. Like how it’s looked like to be been away from your family, not seeing them. And then, like..
Of course…

When when when did you see them last time, for example?
In the around the four years, I didn’t see any my friends, my mom, sister and I miss. And of course, I am I feeling not good. I miss my family, especially my mom, and we can’t each other. And of course, feelings are not good.

I know. I know how what does it make you feel. Um, do you do you feel belonging somewhere like or do you feel any discrimination or any stigma impacting you? Like, do you feel any discrimination? You are from Middle East and Kurdistan, you living here or do you feel to belong to here?
No, no, I didn’t see until now. I didn’t see like I’m in the Middle East from the Middle East. I didn’t felt and. But my identity, like for me, is just people enough with communicate with for me is not. What can I do? Yes, I know I am not here like it’s not my country I know, and this is not like I sometimes know general feeling like tourist.

Mh, mh.
Like, yes, I’m here now. Maybe we have an independent Kurdistan. I will turn back again. And so now for a short time, I’m here. I don’t know, maybe a long time, but I feel like that.

And could you ever have imagined that you would have been able to handle this situation like all difficulties you have been through? Did you ever think about it that you will handle the situation coming here, living alone or not having someone to support you here in this country or any relative? Did you feel that you could handle how, how, how what makes you really strong to handle the situation?
For some years I felt I felt that I felt this. I say, yes, I’m alone. People don’t help me. I can maybe I say to myself, yeah, I can do it. I can do it. Just I know I was alone. But then I met with friends, with my community, with some people. I now, I think better. I said, yes, I am alone. This is like the fighting with life. But I will we will win. Yeah. I feel like, you know, we are Kurds, especially women, Kurd, Kurdish women. When I was when we were child, we were a child, we know we need to be strong.

Woman. Because we when we we we were a child, we know the Turkish state that we see the like enemy and we know that every times we need power like strong woman because the lives, they’re so hard for Kurdish people, especially Kurdish woman and. And. I don’t know, maybe culturally, but we need really we need. So maybe Kurdish women, they are generally feminist because we know that we are not like the man or we are not like Turks people. When we were a child, we know that he or we mom say we grow up like that with this.

I want to wrap up and then ask you this. Like all difficulties we talk about, how do you feel that connecting with your community and your people makes you stronger, actually? And do you think that this makes you to overcome all the difficulties to survive or live with difficulties you have? Or what else that help you to survive or overcome any any?
Of course I can. I can live. I can I can do it for life. And I think I’m strong. I’m feeling strong because I’m Kurds. I know. I know. Because I know my I know my religion and not religion. I know my Kurds problems, historical problems. I know my history. I know my mom is sorry. My grandma, grandma, my father. I know this sister every time they they be strong. And I think the hope. Yeah. Hope for me and I know I will. Yes. I can’t alone change the this situasion and Kurds and these problems, but I know I can change the somethings.

Yeah. You think that your history and the hope are your strength?
Yes. Yes.

Well maybe you can say.
Yes and for for my life, my history, my history

My history and my hope?
Yeah, my history is my hope.

OK, let’s let’s pass on to another country and question. I’m just like this. Do you think that you developed ability to deal with these challenges or do you think you always had those skills change in mechanism, resilience, like you told me, that your history is like something that help you, your strength, and then the hope is your strength as well. And do you think you always had this one or you you gained you developed while you had you are having problems?
I said when I was a child, I think this is like culture, but in a life, I think the stronger than. My background, my past, like the when I lived new problems, I know my experience the yes with good experience because, you know, I am an actor, but in Kurdistan, it’s not easy that and woman because I like to…

Yeah, I have the too many practice in their life, the like fight, fighting with life.

Yeah. So my my experience the help me. I know, I know I, I changed too many things in my life and I can change.

How does it feel?
When hope I feeling the good, perfect. But sometimes when I really started I read the news about Kurdistan and again continue the war, yes I felt bad but I know the like me too many Kurdish people, the fight in their life with art with a journalist like you and with the literature, with signs, with too many things Kurdish wanted to say. We are here. We are live. We are. We are. Yes, that we are different. We don’t have any state. But we live and we we we we can’t not officially what we have like the you have an official name but this name not yours. But you are different like, like, as my official name release from the Turkey because for within you know the forbidden Kurdish language and surname. But we know we are Kurds,

Mh, mh. Yeah, I know that you talk some from your past, but I just want to have an… Oh sorry. Before moving that question, I want to ask you, how has covid-19 affected you in terms of daily life and your mood feeling emotional well being like how it affected you?
Aspect, so strong. You know, I am a Lupus (is a disease), I can’t under the sun and my metabolism is not good immune, problems with the immune system. Once started the coronavirus, like all new said and old people and have immune system problems, they will be died like. I said, okay, I will die, I will be died in UK. I don’t want this this form because, you know, we, we, we, we wanted especially I wanted the if if I died, I wanted the when not with coronavirus, because I see the two many bomb attack I didn’t die. Thia for me is like the shame. And so when started the coronavirus, I started again fighting with myself and with virus and now, until now, I didn’t take the, I, I didn’t had the corona virus, virus. But life the so strange because I can’t went to the outside too many times and generally in at home spend time in at home in my room. I think we’d be changing again.

Did you feel alone during this time?
And yes, of course I and I. I miss you touch people. Really. I miss. I can’t hug you. I want I but I can’t like that. I miss because I, I like to touch the people like yes it’s here. Oh yes she’s here or he’s here. But nearly eight months maybe one and two people I touch. Yeah.

I hope one day you will.
Yeah. Oh I hope, I hope we’ll be changing.

Okay. Let’s talk a bit about your past. Why did you leave your country? Can you describe what happened?
Yeah, I like countries good Kurdistan and especially my homeland, Amed (The Kurdish name of Diyarbakir-a city in southeast Turkey), official names to the Arabic. Ah.. I like my homeland because from when I was a born until the university, because when I went to the university in the Turkish part of Turkish, not part of, in Turkish state in capital city in Ankara. Ah then one finished to my university, I come back again to my homeland in Kurdistan. So I like my homeland and my country north of Kurdistan.

Yeah, but why did you leave? Why did you came to? What makes you to come here? Was it any political…?
Yes, of course. Of course. Of course.

What happened?
Too many things. Ah.. When I was a child, I have a political family and my brothers went to the university and I met with police when I was six years old in my home. Suddenly at three a.m., police come inside and I remember that. I had and I was very…..

For example, I and I was the like the when you went to the school and you I had the bag, in my back every books and notebooks, the very clear and like the same design like stability is like planning and suddenly the police. I can’t remember that and suddenly I can’t forget. Suddenly the police came in at night and, and everything to change and look at the in my school back and and my books and notebooks, the like the.

Yeah. I can’t have I can’t forget that. And so I when I was a child, I met with the police, Turkish police. Ah my brothers went to the university. I know we have Russian literature and novels.

A novel?
A novel we have too too many books. My brothers like the books but everything like. Novels l like poem. When he came, he said, “you know, Maxim Gorky?” Say the “mom”, “ANA” ( the name of Maxim Gorky book translated in Turkish), police ta take the books, said: “who read that?” And my brother said “me” and he started Beating my brother.

Beating with my brother, my big brother. Said that they are communists, blah blah, but it’s just novel, a clear signal in the world. And so I, I was a politic in and and when I wanted it, when I wanted to started the theater school, I went to the university and finish it, I want I, I want to speak with my mom language, acting, because I’m feeling the better with my mom language It’s my language. Yes, I know. Turkish speaking Turkish and I can play, but I want to choose my language because the politic like the (Kurdish)

You actually acting,
Yeah, this for me is big acting in my life because I’m Kurds and they say the forbidden I don’t want this language died. Ah so I want to do it my my mom language make arts.

Did making art in your language, your mother tongue, made trouble for you and any like, did you feel any pressure from Turkish statement?
Of course, Turkish state for for they forbidden language and dangerous. So I know when I started the theater with an amateur like amateur, just used it in Shiwan Perwer ( A very famous Kurdish Singer) where you know, swamper verse song not the Kurds Language Shiwan Perwer song that every time the police came in the saloon and like the suddenly came the state, say, oh, don’t continue, let’s stop and like that, this is terrible for them. So I, I, I was helped HDP and I worked volunteer with HDP party because they wanted the democratic and freedom for Kurds and Turks, by the way, I helped for us and then too many things. I’m here. I don’t want to speak to you.

If you don’t want to speak …. How did that make you feel at that time? At that time?
Now, uh?


Regret? I’m not regret.

Not regretting?
Yeah, I’m not regretted.

Why don’t regret?
Yeah,ah yeah, I am not regretting, because I I I didn’t make the ah bad things that really didn’t just I made arts, acting just I used to my mom tongue.

Oh, I mean like like when you describe the things that you left your country and then come in here and how did it feel you? How did you feel? Did that make you feel?
Yeah, when I came and after the Sur ( a town was under conflict in 2015/16) attack finished, the Sore attack, I came here, but I didn’t choose the I live, I hoped I would turn back again and just I need to a bit time because, you know, the too many they attacked in Council, Kurdish Council and we have….. Is that OK?

Party leader?
Yeah, party leader in prison and my friends in prison. Ah so I said maybe after one month it will be good. And so I didn’t ready for that in this country.

Yeah, I know it’s difficult. How was the journey to Europe? Is that an experience that was particularly difficult that you could tell us about it?.
So basically, I came here.
For me, it’s not bad like the other refugee people, because before that, I went to the europe with art, the theater. And so for me, it’s not bad not like I know too many terrible story: refugee people in the sea then, like for days walking in the forest. And I’m like, I think, yeah.

OK, … some questions. OK, now I ask you something about your dreams. Before the event that lead you to flee home …, what was your dream? Have them answered before the war, if any event and anything? But when you start, could you please say: “My dream was”. Yeah.
Yeah. Uh. My big dream was to see an independent Kurdistan. Really. My big dream that. The other things my, like

Yeah. The other things, my personal dreams, they are not hard, I think. I can I can I will can that. I, I will did. But my big dreams that really independent Kurdistan.

I see the independent Kurdistan and I see the free people, I see the with peace.


Kurdish language. People speak Kurdish language.

When you were leaving your home, what was your dream for the future and have them answer, have them answer: so for example, you left and then you came a new country and then. Like did you have like such a different, different dreams that you had.

Can you start, could you please start with: “I dreamed that”
I dreamed that with a Kurdish theater, with my mom tongue, I made like I have a big theater in the diaspora. And a Kurdish diaspora, I learned and like the Institut, I wanted like the big theater. And also for kids, Kurdish kids, Kurdish young people and Kurdish woman. Like the artists school. This is my big dream.

So is your dream just do you mean like it’s in UK or in general in Europe that..?
No, not not just the U.K. I don’t know. Maybe in the UK centerline, but maybe UK will be center. But I want. Because when I came to here, I didn’t know the too many Kurds in the diaspora. They lived in diaspora. I didn’t know. I know, yes, they refuge, blah, blah, but I didn’t know that too many peoples. And so I want to until I leave here, I wanted the for diaspora people. Because when they came, some people don’t turn back, especially when kids born here and in the diaspora.

You mean born here?
Yeah, born here. They they didn’t went to Kurdistan because they, they like the British, they like the German and it’s normal. But I wanted they, they used again the they don’t they didn’t forget they are Kurds or they live here. Yes. This normal and they need to speak with Kurdish language.

I just want to come back and the last question before the last question I ask you, so what was your dream you said might be biggest dream was Kurdistan. What is your personal dream?
This i not important like the we. You know we, I am an activist also. And my personal dreams, the form is not far, I think not very far. I can really I believe that I will can and make. But my really big dreams does not just for me. Independent Kurdistan for me is the not not I’m Kurds, so I want that. Really. I know in the world every people free have a country, they speak the language, they, they, they, they are free, too many people. Yes. Afghanistan, Pakistan and Middle East all the times the war. But I think that if we have an independent Kurdistan for all world will be better. I know. Not for just my personal dream.

Good. It sounds great. So I just want to wrap up a good question and then finish the interview. But before that, you talked about your strength. But I want to just like make sure that you answer all. Before leaving your home country, what would you describe as your strength? And have you maintain these? If so, how? If not, why? Like you said, that my strength, one of my strength is my my hope.

My history and my hope.

And then do you still do you still think that they are your strength or help you a lot?
Yeah. Um, I feel that that they are helped me because when I remember myself, my background, my old history, not just my personal history, I feel better because I know the hundred thousand years Kurds here, they live, they speak with Kurdish language, the ..so for me is the big hope and so strong and. The other things that maybe personalty and I believe maybe I’m a woman.This is I feel the so strong. And we in the world woman change the too many things and better than better life now with woman. So they are for me, the big things. Maybe I’m a woman and and I work with art: this is for me a big chance, chance. So I believe with hope, with history, with art, I can change and will be strong.

That’s good. So what you have been through seems really difficult and I understand. But do you feel like you have grown in any ways, way as a result of this experience or has anything at all positive come out of it?
And yes, I think this they are for me is positive because I am strong, but sometimes I’m I feeling really tired. I don’t like that because I say that now, you know, life is so strange and but the other side, I say, the OK, I have the practice, the full practice. Come on. Like that.

Good. So let’s go on to the next question. What are your hopes and dreams for the future? Have them answer? Oh, sorry.
I said.

I have them. No, no, sorry. I need to question again: what are your hopes and dreams for the future now? Like when you answer, can you say my dream is. Because we talk about your dream in the past and you dreamed that.

And then your dream is.
Yeah, I dream is I went to the I, I wanted to make Master, Doctora, research and I will be a really good actor.

Do you want to..
This personal For, for. I wanted to like to be will be multidisciplinary with, I want my scale a bit and I wanted the bigger a bit because yes, I’m an actor, I’m working with cinema and I make the, I try to make the animation but I wanted like… And I wanted bigger than scale

Yeah, extent, yeah.

Really appreciate your 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?
Yes, I know every country have their racist people I know, but… but I know that when when I work with as the people from the they came from the Rojava (Northeast Syria/Kurdish PART) in the provoker, eight months I work with they volunteer. When I work, I didn’t any time, didn’t think, didn’t thought I will be a refuge. I didn’t know.

Yeah, refugee. But I know now every people in this earth one days will be refuge…

Yeah, refugee. So they just I, I want to say this world not we are, we are. This world, not us. This world, this world colonial and it’s not about us. This’s not we we we didn’t choose that. And so. They they need to understand, they need to understand and European people, especially, they say, yes, we are we country, maybe they don’t want us, but they can they can your country say the yes. You want the war. So people the they they have. I think that they helped the. They like to part of the war, I think.

How can we make that happen? European people understand refugees situation? How can we do for that?
I think maybe they didn’t know the refugees people, just the see, they see and they didn’t speak to. They didn’t know the for they refugee people, the poor refugee people don’t have education. But no, not no, because the we I know the too many refugees, Kurdish refugees maybe I can talk about that. They are doctor, actor, journalist. And they they didn’t want the refugee refugees, but they now are refugees. They also they they if they are the poor, this not means that they are not human because they feeling they they have a heart, they, they like all people, they, they, we, we are under the same sun under the running.

Yeah. Getting wet under the rain, same rain, same sound we like getting benefit from the same sun/environment and we say we take the vitamins, same sun from the sun. So, so it’s so easy. They understand just they didn’t know, they didn’t think, I think, maybe a bit a bit they know and met with refugee people, I think they will be like and not all people for ISIS people, I think.

Good. Actually our blood is the same and I can say …

OK, thank you so much for answering all questions. And you did a great job. And now we are going end our interview. Thank you.
You are welcome. And thank you, too.

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.