About Refugees, By Refugees

Portrait of Refugee Haroon Alemjaar hiding his face

Haroon Alemjaar

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Photo and interview by:




Handan Tufan

My dream is freedom,” says Haroon Alemjaar (28). “Freedom is the best for the human being.” The former lawyer was forced to leave his family and home in Afghanistan after receiving death threats. On his journey to Europe, he trekked through freezing rain and mountainous terrain for days on end. “I see on the way lot of dead people on the water. On the ground. I don’t think too much about that, because that’s give me pain.” In light of this harrowing encounter, he reflects on the importance of helping others in need. “You have to really do a nice thing for the people… If somebody needs you, then you have to help.” Now, as a shopkeeper in the Netherlands, he has conflicting feelings. “I’m secure here [but] I’m far from my family and I can’t be there with them.” He wishes to be reunited in Afghanistan in the future. “I don’t like to be a refugee. You come from under the bombing, under the attack, under the killing… one time I hope that my country will be good. My country is my house.”

Trigger Warning:

full interview

Hello, I’m Handan, we’re, I make it today, an interview over about you and your experience is really valued and that with your story, we hope we can help people to be more understanding. You don’t have to be in identified in the interview, in the picture, if you wish. And the interview or the picture will be available on the Internet, that media might use it, that your family might see it. It is for a problem?
And not too much, but we can see.

Uh, we can, uh, take your first or full name.
No, you can take it full.

OK, and, uh, after the after the question, I have a, uh, form for our permission.

And I will I will ask some personal question, and you don’t have to answer, if you feel sad, bad and unsafe, you can see me then and we can take a break whenever you want. Uh, do you have any question?
No, I’m OK.

So so start.

And, uh, what kind of housing do you live in?
I live now in my house. Except but, one common, one, one living common, one sleep common.

Can you describe the condition for you?
It’s fine for me. And I like to be here also, but I want.

Who do you live with?
I live alone.

Uh, how do you spend your time? Do you work?
I work since, uh, three years ago. I do sometimes sport as well.

And, uh, what are some of the things that bring your joy?
That I think I have to prove my best enable. And that that could be good for people who would think like me and that they should be do like that.

Uh, how has life been since your arrival in Europe. What’s, uh, what is being good about being here? What is being difficult?
It’s it’s two parts, one of them is I’m secure here. And I don’t think any problem come to me here. And, and the feeling about that I’m far from my family and I can’t be there with them, that is a difficult thing that I have in my life now.

Can you described how living here has made you feel?
It’s sad. It’s made sad, yeah. Because it’s very difficult for me. With from where I lived for 20 years, then you have to leave them.

Uh, how does being away from the rest of your family home make you feel? And how how does the feeling of of not belonging, discrimination, stigma impact you? Can you describe?
Eh it’s it’s very difficult to be far from it from family that does do everything for you. And they gave it everything for you. But you can do something now for them and you have to be alone, far from them. And that feeling is very sad. It’s very difficult to say and the feelings of also not possible to say because the feeling is inside you. You can’t take it away, take it outside.

Uh, could you ever have imagined that you would have been to this situation? How we, uh, uh, uh, how have you been able to overcome, survive and live with it?
I can say I should live without them now. And I, I have to I have to live without them. It’s very difficult, you can say what you say, it’s not possible to say with your feelings, but your feelings, it’s others think that you can see. And it’s very difficult.

Do you think that your developed ability to deal with these changes or do you think you always had this skill, strength mechanism, resilience?
I think, uh. I had the skills I have now, and I think it’s never going to be off of me because I think about that now. I should think about that, because I do very hard for that, I started for that. Yeah. But not resilient.

And how is COVID-19 affecting your, uh, your or your in the terms of daily life and your mood, feeling, emotion?
COVID-19 is going to COVID-19, in effect is for me, it’s just sometimes emotional because because of that, because of the COVID-19. Most, uh, how, uh, old people die and I don’t like that because that is very difficult for the family. They lost them. And I think that also for myself also I be apart from them, I think that it’s very difficult.

And now is your past life- why did you leave your country? Can you describe what happened?
I was a lawyer. And I work about the one year with the long. I got a problem with the people, with the groups. And I have to say that they say we’re going to kill you. When I leave my country because my family wanted that. They say you should go. You can’t stay here because of that, I leave my country. I don’t like to be here, but I have because of my family wishes.

How did that make you feel at the time?
That was a difficult time because I said to my mother, my mother was on it on the crying that the boy, 20 years,  leaved her. He shouldn’t be leave her and she knows that all that the way was also difficult. That was not the easy way. The 22 years old boy leave him, leave her and go to the other other countries without any secure. That was very difficult for me.

And the question three, how has the journey to Europe? Is there any experience that was particularly difficult that you could tell us about?
That was very difficult travel, very difficult journey, because I see on the way lot of dead people on the water. Uh, on the ground. And some of them was with us. And the way was also cold, raining, mountains you should walk two days, three days, four days on the way on the mountain without any, uh, direction that you have to believe for some people that they play in your life and then you have to follow them. That was very difficult.

Yeah, and, uh, how did, uh make you feel at the time?
At the time, I was I think I’m thinking thinking “what’s going to happen” and where I have to go and where we go now, what is behind of this mountain? Nobody knows that in that moment. But yeah, finally. I got it. I arrive somewhere.

Do you think about this events so often? When is there something particular of think about often?
I don’t think too much about that, because that’s give me pain. And because I see a lot of things that should not see them, because of the human. If you if you want to be human, you can’t think about that. And if you’re a human, you have to be other, not like them.

What do you feel when you think about that?
I feel that that, uh, they should stop. And that sort things, because that is not good for a human being. You have to really do a nice thing for the people. They need something. If if somebody needs you, then you have to help and not put it on underground or on the air. That is a very difficult thing.

Uh, does the situation you faced affect you today?
Uh, yeah.

Because what I’m today, it should be more than this, because I was not what I am. I have to prove my myself, what I am, what I can do here. It’s really difficult to prove yourself here. They think others not like you because they didn’t see, they didn’t understand, and they they can’t, uh, imagine that what you half of what you have done or what have you seen? They say. Yeah.

And could, you ever have imagined that you would have been able to handle that situation?


Uh, how were you able to survive or get out it?  Have you created any kind of strength or coping mechanism to get out of times, difficult memories?
Difficult memories, see? I started 12 years, then I went other countries to continued my study. And after that, the memories, nice memories, but the last of the last part of the my life is very hard times because I do hard for the people, not for myself. I was busy with the people to be safe, be nice, and have to be everything with them, because what I have, I like to other people,have that also as well. Because of that, I do everything for them. But, yeah some hands work for the to be off from that way.

And, uh, this question, uh. And yeah, before the event that leave you feel home occurred, what was your dream, um, for example, before the war,  “my dream was this this this here”.
My dream was that, uh,

My dream was…
This is my dream in development was in developing my country. It’s be it’s my country. You have to be should be free for all countries. I don’t like other countries be there because they come there to make broke my countries, kill my people and they killed already, they broke already my peoples. And they do since 40 years ago, I don’t like that. And one time I hope that my country will be free from them.

And when you were leaving your home, what was your dream for the future? Uh, “I dreamed that” this this.
I dream that could be part of my people.

And before leaving your home country, what would you describe as your strength and have you maintained this?
I never think that I have to leave my, I should leave my country because I don’t like that up to now I think for my country, for my people. And it was, uh from my family wish that I should go away.

If so, these characters of strength?
Yeah, why not?

Yeah. What you have been through seems really difficult. Uh, do you feel like you have grown in any way as a result of this experience or has anything at all positive come out of it?
Um, the  thoughts, all the time really difficult because when you say the thoughts the other side, people have to think about that, what do you say and why you say that? They have to imagine you, what have you done or what you got for that.

What are your hopes and dreams for the future? Now  “My dream is this”.
My dream is freedom. Freedom is the best things for the people, for the human being.

We really appreciate you answer all of this question. Is there anything you like to add that might help people in Europe have a better understanding the life of refugee here?
See, refugees, refugees it means that the people come from here, from other countries to here because of the life. People don’t want to leave house. Nobody, nobody like that, that they leave the house. They like, they have their family, their friends, their everything. But if you come here and people have to be respect for you because you have a problem to come here. When you come here they are they should be understand you why you come here. Nobody come here because of nothing. No, they come because of the war and war come from where. They know that. And that is not my mistake to be refugee. This is part of war. Refugee have a lot of meaning, not just go out of your home life with your family to be secure, to make a better life now. That is not the meaning of refugee. Refugee meaning that you come from war. You come from under the bombing, under the attack, under the killing. That’s meaning of a refugee. I don’t like to be a refugee. And one time I hope that my country will be good. I can go back because it’s my country. My country is my house.

OK, thank you very much.
You’re welcome.


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.