About Refugees, By Refugees

Garba Kalifa

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Photo and interview by:




Mouhamed Yaye Traore

What’s good about being here—number one—the human rights,” says refugee Garba Kalifa (32). “You are free, everybody is equal. Nobody is above anybody.” It’s been more than five years since Garba arrived in Europe after fleeing Nigeria where he says his life was in danger. Today, Italy feels like home—although it’s not been easy. He says it “has been difficult for me is trying to find a job and trying to get the documents.” He’s also struggled being so far from his family. “You need somebody to talk to, you need somebody by your side.” He thinks about what his mother told him before he left. “She always advised me, and she gave me courage, even when I think I failed. She always told me: ‘No, you passed’.” When times are tough, he remembers her words. “She keeps on strengthening me.” But he would rather look forward than dwell on the past. “Before I left Nigeria my dream was to be a big artist,” he says. “I’m still working towards it. I’m still working towards that dream.”

Trigger Warning:

full interview

Can you tell me what kind of housing you live in?

Yes, housing.
I live in a two-bedroom apartment with my friend in one room, me in the other room.

OK Can you describe the condition?
The condition is kind of OK for now because it is a new house. I just pack annually and I was in train to systemize it.

How do you spend your time here?
My free time, I spend my free time in doing my job, like music or going outside to take some photos or video.

Have you something that bring you joy?
Yes, they are somethings that bring me joy. I have a lot of things that bring me joy. Number one, I’m always happy whenever I’m doing my job or when I see my job projected or being shown to people and people comment on the job and say good job, it lifts me up.

What is the thing, what are some of the things that would bring you joy?
Some of the things that bring me joy just like I said before like my career brings me joy.

How has life been since you arrived in Europe?
Well, it has been good. Well thank God for Greece. God has really been faithful life has been beautiful.

What has been good about being here?
Well, what’s good about being here – number one – the human rights, you have human rights – you are free, everybody is equal. Nobody is above anybody, nobody is oppressing you, you do what you want. And you are able to make use of your life.

What has been difficult for you?
The only thing that has been difficult for me is trying to find a job and trying to get the documents.

Can you describe how living here made you feel?
Living here made me feel like home. Sometimes when I’m in the midst of Italians, it makes me feel like home. Made me feel comfortable with them and for me is really good coming to this country.

How does being away from the rest of your family make you feel?
Yah, being away from family sometimes is not easy because you need somebody to talk to, you need somebody by your side. But life goes on anyway you find yourself, where God wants you to be at that particular time. So…

How does the feeling of not belonging, discrimination, stigma impact you?
Eh, not belonging, discrimination has been the path of me because as a traveler, as a person who travels from one place to another, do not listen to discrimination, not listen to rixis, do not listen to… feel at home feel like you are part of them because English words say, if you are in Rome you behave as a Roman, so you have to be a part of them.

Could you ever have imagined that you will have will have been able to handle this situation.
Yes, this situation; because this is not the first country I’ve been to, like leaving my family or leaving my house. I’ve been to other countries, I’ve been to other African countries before coming to Europe countries, so I’ve seen a lot of life, I’ve seen a a lot of people who with that kind of character of not belonging, of discrimination but we are unable to undo them, so I believe I am unable to undo a lot of stuff.

OK How have you been able to overcome things?
I have been able to overcome, number one, being left listening. I don’t listen that much to what they are saying. I only listen to the things that are important. Only the important things I listen to, so I don’t give a thought to about what anybody is saying about you or about me. So it only matters I am going somewhere.

Do you think that you have developed the ability to deal with those challenges?
That’s true. I have the ability, I have developed a lot of ability to overcome the challenges because I left my home a long time ago so I have to be ready for any challenges.

OK How what kind of ability did you develop?
The kind of ability I developed is the kind of ability that makes me believe that since I left my home, my own country any country that I find myself I need to be efficient no matter what comes my way.

How has COVID affected you in terms of daily life and your mood?
Talking about COVID-19, COVID-19 has affected not just me but the whole world entirely not just me particularly but the whole world entirely. It has not been really easy coping with COVID-19. In particular, the aspect of wearing masks everywhere you are going, to visit a doctor. So it’s kind of crazy, kind of crazy but normally it affects a lot.

Now my question will be, it’s a bit difficult. Why did you leave your country?
The reason that I left my country for me I would say the story best known to me and the lawyer and the judge.

Can you describe what happened?
It’s a matter of, a matter of emergency. It’s a matter of emergency and a matter of life. So we, I have to leave to save my life and save it from disaster.

How did that make you feel at the time?
At the beginning it made me feel so bad but in the meantime I feel let’s move on, so I need to move on.

How was the journey to Europe?
The journey to Europe. That is not a journey to describe because it is a very brutal journey, a very strong one.

Is there an experience that was particularly difficult?
Of course there was an experience that was particularly difficult – an experience of the desert – living four days in the desert and stepping two times in the boat trying to cross the Mediterranean sea. It was really difficult.

OK How did that make you feel at the time?
In the meantime in the meantime I feel OK because I’ve passed that era now.

Do you think about those events often?
No I don’t think about it.

Is there something in particular you think about now? What do you feel when you think about that?
What do I when I think about that. I don’t think that much, I only pray for people that are still there. For God to save them, because I know it is not easy.

Doesn’t your passage affect you today?
No no it doesn’t affect me at all.

Could you ever have imagined that you… Could you ever have imagined that you will have been able to handle this situation?
No, no I never believed that, under the situation, I just believed that we are going somewhere in this time. So that is it.

How were, how were you able to survive?
I was able to survive because I was prayerful and I was patient.

OK Have you created any kind of strategy?
Yeah, in this country?

Yes, not as, yes because as I earlier said, I’m still trying to work on my career.

Where do you find strength and support?
Strength? (Laughs). Where did I find it? That’s questions from the Lord, anyway from God. God has been the one strength in me then the pushing means going.

Before the event that led you to fly home again what was your dream?
What was my dream. My dream was to be a big artist. Not imagine. Imagine to be a big artist.

No I mean before. Before you…
Yes before I left Nigeria. Before I left Nigeria my dream was to be a big artist, have a big studio of my own where I do photo jobs, video jobs maybe film academy.

OK And when you were leaving your home what was your dream for the future?
My dream for the future is still the same. Like I will have to go back there to have a film village, a movie village or a film academy.

And now, what is your dream?
Now the dream still remains. I’m still working towards it, I’m still working towards that dream.

Can you please answer like I dream that…?
Yah, yah, My dream. I dream that I’ll build a film tutorial a film to show like a school a movie school. Like a talent school very showcase. Showcase all kinds of talent – dancing, acting, singing and all that. So, that’s what I dream of every time.

OK Before leaving your home country what would you describe as your strength?
Before I was leaving my own country my strength was my mother. Because she always advised me and she gave me courage even when I think I failed, She always told me “no you passed”.

Have you maintained those strengths?
Yes; yes. I still maintain those strengths because each time I think about what she told me before. Each time I remember how I loved discussion each time we talked, she keeps on strengthening me.

What, for what reason you maintain those strengths?
Yeah. For what reason I maintain those strengths is those advice of being the things that keep me up until today. Those advice have been the things that have me moving on working on up till this very moment.

Do you think, do you feel, do you think you are growing anyway?
Of course, yes I’m growing. Yes I’m growing because, just like for example, last year I was invited into a program, Stand up for Africa. And this year I was called again to do another great project for the same? To do another stuff for the same people. And this time it’s not just only in one city but in four cities. So that is a growth already so I’m growing.

What are your hopes and dreams for the future now?
Um My hope and dream for the future is to be myself and have a beautiful family (Laughs). A good family you know. A happy family and to work hard to be a man.

OK I’m very very happy and we really appreciate your answering all those questions. Is there anything you had, you would like to tell us? Maybe to help people in Europe better and just say life after refuge here

Not really, not really but what I would like to say is for we the refugees, we that migrated from our country to Europe, we should learn one thing – we should respect the laws and regulations of the country. Because why, that alone will make us a use for somebody in the society. And also to keep by and try as much as possible to work and make ourselves useful. Because before we came to this place about ten years ago (unclear). We need to make a great impact we need to make a difference.

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.