About Refugees, By Refugees

Portrait of refugee Haifa with her hood up and her hands holding her hair hiding her face


Pictures taken in:



Photo and interview by:




Abdalah Abdelhalim

“It was a dream that I could live in a country that respects me and feel safe among people and my family,” says Haifa (35), who left her birth country of Bahrain due lack of security, persecution, and injustice towards women. She lived in fear there, and nearly died after being forced to undergo surgery. She applied for asylum in the Netherlands and experienced a lot of stress in the refugee camp, but is now comfortable and happy living in an apartment: “I feel sad that I live away from my family and my country, but it cannot be compared to the sense of safety I feel now.” Throughout her journey, she maintained her self-reliance and was unafraid of change: “Life in the Netherlands has made me stronger… I think this is my strong point in my whole life that I can rely on myself.” In the future, Haifa dreams of studying, working, and traveling: “I want to see more places in the world… I want to go to more music festivals because music is my passion. These are my dreams for the future.

Trigger Warning: Sex; sexism; body appearance; violence

full interview

Okay, what is your current situation?
My current situation is that, thank God, I am comfortable. I got a house in Amsterdam, which is the city where I wanted to be put in, and thank God, I got an apartment here, I have my place, I have my life. I have recently finished school or the first stage, the introduction to Dutch, and yeah, I am living a happy life, thank God.

Who do you live with and how do you spend your time, do you work or not?
Currently, I do not work. As I mentioned earlier, I have just completed the introduction course in Dutch. Of course, the next stage will be to enter a school and I must reach a certain level of Dutch language in order to be able to work. At the moment, I would like to work in a job that is in English because my English language is strong rather than doing nothing. Like a part-time job while studying for the A1 course in Dutch.

Okay and what are the things that bring you joy?
The things that make me happy are that I like to spend time with my friends sometimes, with the people I know here in Amsterdam or in cities around Amsterdam. I love animals very much and I love music and music festivals, I love reading, and I am trying to read these times and spend my time with useful things because, of course, emptiness is fatal, and these are the things that bring me joy.

Well, how was your life when you first arrived in the Netherlands, what were the positive or negative things, was there anything difficult for you?
So, when I first arrived to the Netherlands and applied for asylum, at the beginning of the asylum process was a little difficult because the asylum procedures took longer than usual. Before 2019, asylum procedures did not take more than six months or even less. Unfortunately, when I arrived at the Netherlands the IND said that they had a shortage of staff. So almost all people who applied for asylum in 2019 or the end of 2018, our papers took a year or two to be ready. The asylum period in the camp was annoying and there was a lot of stress, I mean, my mental health was not well. I tried not to spend much time in the camp. When I had the opportunity to go out and see my friends outside, I used to sleep at one of their houses and so on, and that was the only negative thing, I mean.

Okay. How do you feel that you are away from the rest of your family and your home?
I think I didn’t finish the previous question. I’m sorry.

Sure, no problem.
The second part of the answer is that the situation now, thank God, is not the same as during the period of asylum. Everything is positive and life is of course better now, this is the part I forgot to mention.

So this is the positive thing.
Yes, that’s the positive side.

So what can you tell me about your feelings on being away from your home and family?
So, no one in the world likes to be away from their family and country, but when a person lives in a place where they do not feel respected just like a normal human being, and living in fear without safety. The country I was in, I mean, is unfortunately one of the Arab countries that does not respect women very much, and of course, a large group of society such as the LGBT or anyone who’s different to some extent. Arab countries are not the place where people can live in dignity, respect and safety. Sometimes we cannot trust the law to stand in our favor and help us. Of course, I feel sad that I live away from my family and my country, but it cannot be compared to the sense of safety I feel now.

How does the feeling of not belonging affect you? Can you describe it?
In the Netherlands, I honestly never felt that I did not belong at all. The Dutch people are very kind and respectful. A large group of Dutch people are receptive to others and there is a large group that accepts refugees. I mean, I met Dutch people, even by chance I was once in the taxi, for example, a woman. I told her that I was a refugee and so on, she sympathized to my situation, and she immediately on her own understood when I told her which Arab country I am coming from, she told me that they know what it’s like. I never felt that I did not belong in the Netherlands. Honestly, most of the time I feel safe. Of course, there is a group of people who do not accept others or they don’t want refugees to come and live in their country, but I think those people are a minority in the Netherlands.

So it was not difficult for you.
No, it was not difficult for me to belong. I felt a sense of belonging in the Netherlands.

Well, how has Corona pandemic affected you in terms of your daily life and mood?
Honestly, Corona has not affected me much, it has not affected me significantly. I am a social person but not very social. I like to stay at home most of the time unless I go to a festival or to see my friends, but most of the time I like to stay at home. So it did not affect me much. The only thing that was annoying was when you went to the supermarket and found that all things were out of stock in a supermarket because people were frightened and they were buying in large quantities. This is what I think made most people nervous, people were scared and running everywhere. I mean, the situation was a little tense, but Corona did not affect me much. It was okay and we knew that it would definitely not last forever.

What is your current feeling of living here in the Netherlands?
My current feeling is that thank God I am comfortable. In Amsterdam, I see my friends, I study, do the things I love, go out or walk in the street. It was difficult to do these things before, even in my country, to walk on the street freely without being harassed as a woman, which is something common in many Arab countries, but thank God I am comfortable now, I am comfortable in the Netherlands.

Well, can you tell me why you left your country?
So when I get asked this question, I don’t know where to start answering this question.

Can you describe your feelings and how do you feel?
Yes, of course, as I mentioned, this makes me nervous and sometimes I don’t know what to say to people, because the subject is big and complex. What made me leave my country is the lack of security, persecution, injustice, as a woman in Arab countries, society and even family sometimes do not respect women. We are often forced to do things we don’t want to do. We live a life that we do not want to live, because society, parents, religion and culture all force us to live a life that is not our choice. There are many reasons why I left my country. This is a thing that I do not like to mention very much, but I will mention it for the interview so that people know the things that women or even female teenagers go through. When I was a teenager, I was forced to do an operation because I lost my virginity. Of course, in Arab countries losing your virginity could lead to murder. I had to have a surgery to reconstruct my virginity and I actually had a near death experience. I was bleeding excessively. Of course, this affected me very much when I was young. I used to hate my life. I hated my community. I used to hate my surroundings. I always lived in fear that something will happen to me from society, from my parents and such things.

How was your journey to the Netherlands? Do you have a story that happened to you or something difficult happened to you on the road or anything you can tell us?
I came to the Netherlands by plane. When I arrived in the Netherlands, I thought I wanted to live here forever. I had no intention of returning to my country. I did not feel safe there. I could not continue my life. Of course, I knew about the idea of asylum in the world, but I didn’t have enough information. I didn’t know how people used to apply for asylum in the Netherlands or other European countries or any other country in the world. My friend told me to apply for asylum. She suggested that I meet her lawyer. We actually went and met the lawyer. The lawyer told me that with the story that has happened to you throughout your life you have a great chance to get asylum. The IND will see that it is your right. I mean, what happened to you and is nothing easy. In fact, they will give you asylum. I mean, she is the one who encouraged me and she told me to apply for asylum. This is what happened.

Well, what was your dream before you fled your country and your home?
I mean, like anyone, it was a dream that I could live in a country that respects me and feel safe among people and my family, in a place that respects me as a human being, respects my dignity, appreciates me, but unfortunately this is not what I have experienced throughout my life. But like a dream, I mean, it was my dream since I was young to leave my country. I didn’t like my life, I didn’t feel safe, I didn’t feel respected. I didn’t feel many things that anyone in the world deserved as a human being. It really has been my whole life that I wanted to leave my country.

Well, currently, how do you feel?
In the Netherlands?

Thank God I feel so comfortable and happy. Sometimes I feel that I am actually living in a dream, that I am in a comfortable place where I am not afraid. I can be myself. I do whatever I want. I live my life the way I want without anyone judging me, without anyone making me feel afraid, without anyone controlling me. Thank God I am comfortable.

What is your dream for the future?
My dream in the future is to work, God willing. One of the dreams is that I want to work with animals, maybe in a zoo, even if it is not my main job, maybe a part time or a job on the side to work with animals because I really love animals, and I was hoping that I could continue studying, studying video production, but this is for the future. I am not sure if this will happen or not, but in general I love the field of media and I love video editing, video production, photography and such things.

Before you left your home country, what were your strengths? Did you keep them or didn’t you keep them? If you kept them how? If you didn’t keep them, why?
I think the thing I feel that I am good at which has really helped me in my life, is that I know to be self-reliant. I’m not afraid of change, I’m not afraid to take a step to change my life. Of course, life in the Netherlands or in Europe in general forces a person to be more self-reliant. Life in the Netherlands has made me stronger in this regard. Even on days when I am tired, even when I am sick, I have to help myself and take care of myself. I mean, I care about my responsibilities, I do not rely on others. I think this is my strong point in my whole life that I can rely on myself and, yeah.

So you kept it.
I kept it, yes.

You kept it and developed it further… I want to ask you about your dreams and hopes for the future. What other dreams and hopes for the future do you have? Can you explain to me a little bit more?
As I mentioned before, I mean, I hope I work in a job I love, I wish I work with animals and travel more. I want to explore Europe more. I want to see more places in the world, especially in Europe, because I am currently here. I have a greater chance of traveling or even going on road trips, it doesn’t have to be by plane. I want to go to more music festivals because music is my passion. These are my dreams for the future.

Nice, I really appreciate your answers to the questions I asked you. Is there anything you would like to add that can help people coming to Europe to seek asylum better. Help them with anything?
For people to understand refugees?

Yes, so refugees can understand here.
I mean, of course, the thing that people should understand is that no one in life likes to be away from their family, their country, their friends, their memories and their whole life that they lived in one place. No one likes to stay away from all these things and live alone away from all the things they’re familiar with. So when a person is fed up, they actually say that they are not able to live in this place. They think about traveling to apply for asylum to change their life, which means that they have reached a point where their patience has run out. Their life is in danger. They are unable to live in a certain place. My advice to people, what I can tell them, is to try to be less judgemental, try to be more patient with people. Listen to what they have experienced. Read on the Internet, look at stories and listen to people. Do not judge people quickly. Do not judge them and say that these refugees came to your country to take your money. Because there are many people in Europe, the Netherlands and countries in general who believe that refugees like to be refugees. As I mentioned earlier, no person in life likes to change his life, but has to change it. Refugees have not only come to work or tourism or want to sit for a while and return to their country. They left their country because they had to. There is something that has forced them to leave their place. This is the point I like to mention to people. Try to be less judgmental, try to have more patience and more compassion and be more understanding to people’s situations in life.

Of course, you are talking about people here, you mean the Dutch.

I meant new refugees. What would you like to tell them?

What is the situation of refugees here?
There is a new life, and God willing, you will have a nice future and a future in a country that respects you, gives you safety and gives you your rights as human beings. I mean, if I want to tell them something, I tell them have faith and have hope in life and do not lose hope. If you try once and fail, try again because it is your right, asylum seeking is a human right.

All right. Thank you.
You are welcome, thank you for having me.

Bye bye.
Bye bye.

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.