About Refugees, By Refugees

Portrait of refugee Hannah with her hands in the pocket of a checkered jacket she is wearing.

Hannah Bakhtiari

Pictures taken in:



Photo and interview by:

United Kingdom



Sarah Tehranian

“Since I was a child…because my mom was a woman that did a lot of political activities…I always loved to do something related to politics,” says Hannah (pseud, 37). After her dad was killed, her mom’s political work forced them to flee from Iran to Germany. Hannah was eight. “I always felt my mother’s stress,” she says. “When I see that something bad is about to happen…I would create a nice fantasy world for myself… This was a mechanism for me to survive.” She’ll never forget the last leg of their journey, when a smuggler gave her a Mars bar: “Whenever I see this chocolate…it’s impossible for me not to think of that situation.” Today Hannah works for an Iranian news program in London, where she moved three years ago. “Now I cope with problems in a different way…it took a long time to come out of the nice fantasy world to the world of reality,” she says. “When a person…overcomes their boundaries, that person will become more familiar with their strength and this makes the person happy.”

Trigger Warning: Death; violence/murder; war/conflict; discrimination

full interview

Syrus dear, can you tell me more about yourself? Where do you live? What are you doing these days? 
I’m Syrus. I’m 37 years old. I live in London and work for an Iranian news program in London and I’m the housemate living with one of our presenters.

During this period that you’re living in London, what do you do as a hobby? Especially during COVID-19. 
My hobby has always been exploring London, even when there was no Corona because I’ve always been in love with this city and I’ve always loved to live in London since childhood. So, as much as I can, I try to discover a new unexplored area of London every time.

Ever since you came to London, what did you see good in it? What were some of the difficult things that you saw? As you know, you were in Germany, if you’d like to compare it to Germany. 
Yeah, I was raised in Germany. I grew up in Germany since being eight years old. I can say that it’s my home now because most of my memories are from there. There is a difference between London and Germany. When I came to London…It’s been three years that I’m in London…Since day one, I never felt like a stranger in London…Never. But a feeling that I had from 30 years living in Germany was that I never felt that it was my home. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the feeling of ease that I have now in London back in Germany.

Why do you think this way, despite saying that Germany was your home? You were there since childhood. 
Maybe, it’s a cultural issue which I think the Germans are really reserved people and the English people are more sociable and relaxed. For me, Germany was always like that. Everything should stay in a framework that’s there. They shouldn’t leave the norm, whether at work or at school or in society. And I don’t feel this way in London. I feel that even if a person does a mistake, it’s just considered a human error. And because of this, I like this place more. I also like Germany but I’m more comfortable here.

Now regarding these feelings that you said you had in Germany, first of all, if you want to name them, is it something like discrimination, nostalgia for Iran, or something else? And what feeling did it give you personally? 
Well, my background…um, we have a tribal background. I’m from Bakhtiari and we come from the south of Iran, the people over there are really warm, welcoming and relaxed. When I came to Germany, it felt like they threw me into cold water. The culture over there was not even the slightest familiar to me.

First, tell me how old you were.
I was eight years old. I think when I reached Germany, after two months, I became nine years old. I came from a place where on a bus if a person opens a pack of chewing gum, they would offer some to the people sitting next to them, even if they didn’t know each other when I came to Germany…one day, one of my German classmates…I was the only foreign student at that time which was also a problem for me when I came here. Overall, we were neighbors and they invited me over to their house, her mother called her daughter for lunch and said to her your friend can wait for you in your room. And I who came from a culture where everything was at least offered and sometimes people would give a portion of their food to their guests have suddenly come to such a culture. And this act gave me a strange feeling of not being welcomed. I can say that this was the reason.

This was definitely a cultural shock. I just got a cultural shock too.

Did you ever imagine dealing with such a situation that too at this age and what did you do to survive or overcome the situation?
Well, immigrating wasn’t my decision, it was my mom’s decision. And the fact that…I liked Iran a lot at that time. It is true that Iran was a black place for me because of the things that happened to my family because of the government. But…what was your question again? I’m sorry.

Did you ever imagine the situation and how did you survive?
Um, no, I never imagine it and when I heard that we are leaving Iran, it was really scary for me because where were we going? A place where you don’t even know the language, and for what? What’s about to happen? Who do you have there to help you? These were some of the fears that I felt at that age and we had a really long way. For almost six months, we came from a country that was ruined according to us to another country that was more ruined than our country. Such as…Bulghar…First, we came to Turkey, there was a coup in Turkey at that time. The army was in the streets.

What year was it?
It was around 2013. Then when we reached, there was a coup. Then from there, after living in some of the worst places in Istanbul with the smugglers for some time, me and my mom, I came to Bulgaria smugglers. In Bulgaria, the breakup of the Soviet Union was happening and there was no food to be found there. There was literally nothing. The people just stole, there was nothing in the supermarkets to buy. There was absolutely nothing. It was also winter and the conditions were really bad. We spent the winter there with great difficulty and from there we went to Yugoslavia, where war had just started. Then I asked myself, why did we come out of our country? (Chuckles) It would have been better if we remained there. Our family was also there, etc…Then from there, we came to Austria, where my world changed a lot. Everything was nice and organized and clean. As for surviving…cause we really had a bad time. The stress that my mom had, and the disappointment that she had would have eventually transferred to me and this was kind of normal. That things that I survived…I was a fantasy girl since childhood and when I see that something bad is about to happen and puts pressure on me. I would create a nice fantasy world for myself that I used to go there and lived there and kept my distance from reality. This was a mechanism for me to survive this crisis.

This is really interesting because your age compared to others that immigrate in this way was really low. I always ask the people, what ability or strength they have to tolerate and cope with these situations. Many people turn to photography, arts, poetry, storytelling, etc. But this is not the case for a kid. But now, how do you think you were able to cope with the challenges of that time? Did you learn a new mechanism that you experienced from then and kept on using it with other problems…or did you have a strategy or did you achieve a new strength such as being more patient? What was the case for you?   
From then till now?

The experience of the new strength that you got.
Okay. Well, the difficult conditions that I passed did have a lot of influence because of a kid with that age… in Yugoslavia, in war…Sending your mother to the jungle in the night, where were we going during the war? Where were we even going? We didn’t even have a place to return to…and it was really difficult. As I said before, I always felt my mother’s stress. My mom couldn’t hide that from her kid to show her that everything is okay…I’ve had stress for years and I can’t say that I had a very normal childhood or teenage life. Everything was crowded around me. And my mom tried a lot…As in I went to a lot of art classes. Starting from patinage, piano…Every year I did something new for my mother to bring me to where I am now but I never liked any of them completely. As in, I always wanted to be in my own fantasy. I wanted to be left alone listening to music and being in my own fantasy world. I think I went to these fantasy worlds a lot and created such a nice world that I didn’t want to return back to reality. I think that it was like that though. Whenever I went for patinage or sports, I wanted to be in my own world but I couldn’t because I had to concentrate. So, things passed by in a difficult way and I was a very unrelaxed person until I came to London. Seems I had a second immigration in my life which I never imagined it happening because when I was living in Germany…In a country where the living standard is well high, everything is complete, you have a passport and speak the language better than your mother tongue and you know everything, and there are no democracy problems…I never imagined coming to London…as in immigrating again. It was indeed a surprise and an overnight decision that helped me a lot to overcome all the fears that I had with immigration being part of it. Coming out of all these fears was a step to come to London because I was alone, I didn’t have anyone with me, just a person that I knew who I rented a room, and I didn’t have a good language. I didn’t even know where I’m supposed to go. But it was really interesting because this time I didn’t have the stress of other refugees. I had a passport that allowed me to stay here easily, and I didn’t have any paperwork issues. Then it was really funny that I was able to experience all this alone but much easier. And I really thought about my mother because…well, it’s true that London is not an easy city. It’s not like they will bring anything in front of you. You have to fight for it like everywhere in the world. But as I said, I didn’t have this in Germany. A plus thing that really makes me happy is that I have finally become independent, I’ve become really relaxed and now I don’t have stress over the things that don’t happen in the framework of my life and now I cope with problems in a different way and it took a long time to come out of the nice fantasy world to the world of reality and see what’s happening. I still have the fantasy world for myself but only when I go home at night (chuckles).

So, it’s safe to say that the second immigration helped you to settle in more in Europe or Britain.
It really helped me to…first of all to settle in and I became more familiar with myself when a person reaches a boundary or overcomes their boundaries, that person will become more familiar with their strength and this makes the person happy. You would be like, “Hey, I have this strength and I didn’t know about it.” So, yeah, London was a very big plus for me and yeah, I never felt that I’m a German but I do feel like I’m European. Because I really have their culture and let me tell you this as well. When I came to London, I came to realize that I have a lot the German culture and I didn’t know about it.

Very interesting. A lot can be said about this but let’s go back to the past. Two steps back to like what even happened when you even immigrated. Since you were just a child with your mother, you can explain what happened to whatever extent you like and what was your feeling at the time before leaving Iran.
Well, the main reason for our exit from Iran was… (it felt like before I was even born, my destiny was written without me knowing anything about it and it wasn’t even my choice… mainly because kids don’t make their own decisions)…was that my mom and dad were part of an organization that was considered LEFT and this was a problem at that time. The government did not accept them. My dad had a high position in that organization and was responsible for Khuzestan and my mom had a lot of active participation. Then when they marry by means of that organization, my mom becomes pregnant and my dad…they were fugitives and my dad in Esfahan was killed by the police or Sepah or whatever they call it as my dad was also armed. Then my mom was also a fugitive and was three months pregnant. When she delivered, I and my mom were captured after 15 days. They captured us as well as other 15 people from our family. Then I was in jail with my mom for six months, then my mom gave me to my grandmother because of her sickness in jail and my grandmother took me to my aunt. I grow up under my aunt for the duration of my mom in jail. My mom was going to be executed and…as in my aunt never thought that my mom will ever come out and they adopted me as their child. Then my mom was released after eight years eventually and after eight years my mom didn’t stay silent and wanted to do her own activities but this was not possible because we were under the supervision of the government and we had to leave that place…because of this.

Do you remember the day when your mom decided and through what path did you come? Talk about your first path till you reached Europe.  
Since my uncles were released faster than my uncle, they went to America and Canada. They told my mom to leave the country as soon as possible and that they would support her. These were the initial talks that happened for a few weeks and I didn’t take them seriously because I wanted to stay with my aunt that raised me and I didn’t want to be far away from them. Then one night my mom said that we are leaving the next week. Then with a lot of problems, fake passports, and smugglers we came to Turkey. The first place that we reached was Istanbul in Turkey.

If you want to revise this journey, is there a part of it that when you close your eyes you think about it and it has stayed in your mind for a long time? It could be an interesting moment or one that pains you. What part do you think most of the time?
In fact, when I think about it, it has something sweet to it but it also disappoints me in a way.

When we were coming to Germany from Austria…we had a lot of hard paths but this was the most difficult because it was our final road to the destination that we wanted to go. We had to pass through the jungles of Austria to reach the south of Germany and something that’s common between Germany and Austria is that they hunt boars a lot and that time was the perfect time to hunt boars. It was me, my mom, and three Indian men…sorry, Pakistani and the smuggler where he was taking us on foot through the jungle. It was also around March which was close to our New Year and I had really thin clothes at night the smuggler kept telling us not to make any noise so they don’t shoot us thinking we are a boar. And one of the Pakistani men had an allergy in the jungle and kept on sneezing most of the time. Then we had to pass through a small lake, it was really small but since it was really cold…it was around two in the morning…We had to pass through water. I remember the water being…only my head was above the water and I was freezing while walking to reach the other side. And in fact, I didn’t say anything because I knew that my mom had stress and everyone had stress and I told myself that now is not the time for excuses. When we reached, the sunlight was just beginning to shine and there was another smuggler with a car waiting on the road. When we entered the car, we were really dirty and wet and this person…I was sitting on my mother’s lap…and when he saw me, he told me to open the dashboard…there is chocolate inside it. I opened it and the chocolate was Mars and whenever I see this chocolate…in fact, I ate one today…it’s impossible for me not to think of that situation. This is a memory that I will never forget and will keep thinking about it.

How interesting. We aren’t the ones to choose memories really. Now, that you mentioned all of this, you also mentioned the strengths that you got from all these. If you want you can return and explain more but since you were a child, you might have had dreams at that age. Or maybe worse, when you were in Germany. What was your dream for the future compared to now?  
My dream…I have reached my dream in a way because my dream ever since I was a child when others wanted to be a doctor or a singer or any other thing…because I always…because my mom was a woman that did a lot of political activities and didn’t look like an average type of woman at that time. She was a way ahead of what she should have been and the fact that…my mom really had a lot of political literacy and the fact that every one that came to our house was political people…We only had relationships with political people and I always loved to do something related to politics. Not related to political factions but actual good politics. And I always wanted to study political sciences and all of my friends used to say, “How bad! How boring!” I finally studied political sciences so I’m not really far from political stuff.

How good, and now you’re working in a completely political area which is about Iran. Is there anything that you’d like to say because I have almost asked everything? If you have a message for the Europeans that could learn from your experience…You used to say I wish they did this to us…
Yeah, something that really annoyed me in Germany was that the Germans really judge you a lot with respect to foreigners because the time when we came, the Germans weren’t used to foreigners compared to now and we were always…it was my personal feeling…some people might have a positive feeling but I always had a feeling of being judged such as being considered as a second- or third-class people. This was a feeling that I used to get because I was aware of the behaviors that could be seen. If I behaved the same way to my friend, they wouldn’t have considered it a problem but I could see the problem and this annoyed me a lot. But something that I learned myself and would like others to know is to never judge anyone. As in, something that never enters my mind is religion, skin colour, their origin…These were something that never…I never understood why others judge people. This was something positive that I learned in these conditions and I would like the Europeans to be more open-minded and not to put us on a shelf that they think we belong there and it’s the right of every human to…it’s quite simple to say but I think humans have the right not to stay in a place that they feel threatened. It might not be war or anything but they should get the chance to live in a different place if they want to. Maybe they can become a better version of themselves.

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.