About Refugees, By Refugees
Pictures taken in:
Photo and interview by:
Bosnia and Herzegovina
ElSayed Mahmoud ElSehamy
“I will tell you about my dreams, one after another. God willing, we will be able to reach Italy,” says Lahcen Daghbadj (23), who spent four years journeying from his birth country of Algeria to Europe with his brother. Now in Bosnia, he dreams of opening a barbershop with his brother in Italy – where their uncle is – to apply the hairdressing skills he learned while at a refugee camp in Greece. However, life at the camp made him feel trapped. He wishes he could be with his mother. “But reality isn’t like that. Life forced us to be away,” he says. Difficult economic conditions led the brothers to leave home, but Lahcen focuses on the upside of his decision. Meeting people of various nationalities along the way has given him the chance to experience cultural diversity: “There are pros and cons to this and we just hope to see more pros.” He attributes his inner strength to his parents and his faith. “My mother always prays for us… And Allah gave us strength to keep going.”
Trigger Warning: Violence
I spoke with Hussein alone, for you, introduce yourself.
My name is Daghbadj Lahsan from Algeria’s capital. A person who loves living and talking too much. I talk too much.
Unlike Hussein, right?
Haha yes, unlike him, I love getting to know people and make new friends. I also love learning languages and traveling. I have traveled a lot in this journey, well, it’s not traveling, actually, but at least I have seen some countries and I would like to see more. My journey has been going on for four years.
Yes, four years in this journey. We lived in Turkey and learned to sew, we lived there for two years. Our lives consisted of work only. Then we went to Greece and worked as barbers, as I told you. We lived in the camp for a year and a half and lived outside the camp for six months. Then we continued on our path and now we’re in Bosnia.
You mean, you lived in a camp before this?
Yes, in Greece.
How long did you stay there?
A year and a half.
What was the most difficult thing about it or what were the things you disliked in the camp in Greece?
Living in the camp is nothing like living normally. In the camp you feel trapped, it’s a closed area that is too far from the city. You only get to see refugees, you can’t see other people.
You mean the Greeks.
Yes, the Greeks, you don’t see them much. But when we went to school, we used to meet and make Greek friends there. Still, when you live in the camp, you don’t feel like a normal citizen. You can’t live like them.
And you said that you had met many people from many nationalities?
Sure, many nationalities. And that gave us some sort of experience.
What kind of experience?
Experience in how to deal with different people with different cultures, that taught us many things.
Are there things you have learned personally?
Certainly, yes. I have learned many things. For example, I don’t talk with you, as an Egyptian, the same way I talk with an Iranian person. It is not the same thing, you must know how to deal and speak with each and it can not be the same with everyone. You have to also consider culture.
If you were still in Algeria, would it be the same?
I don’t think so, as my brother told you, there are pros and cons to this and we just hope to see more pros, God willing.
What was the main reason you left Algeria in the first place?
Material living standards were very difficult. It was very difficult to find a job or to complete your studies. You can’t complete your studies unless you are financially stable, you will have to work, most families are poor. I have an older brother who doesn’t work and my youngest brother is a student, my brother and I are the middle children.
So you are four?
Yes four, being in middle children, it is difficult to study or find a job in Algeria and so on, material living standards were too difficult.
So that was the main reason? But for example, if you had a better financial position, would you have stayed in Algeria?
If we get an opportunity to live an average life, we would stay in Algeria, and I say average, not even wealthy. If we can have a normal average life, we would stay in Algeria.
Were you studying in Algeria before you left?
Yes, we were studying.
Middle school. In Egypt we call it prep school, we call primary school that.
Not primary, you mean middle school.
Yes, middle school I mean.
So what is your dream personally? As you are thinking now.
I will tell you about my dreams, one after another. God willing, we will be able to reach Italy.
So that’s your first dream.
Your dream is to reach Italy.
Yes, then, God willing, I would like to be a barber with my brother. I dream of opening a shop with my brother.
What kind of shop?
A barbershop, so both of us can start families. Then after getting my official papers, I would like to go and visit my family and friends.
You want to open your shop in Italy or you still haven’t decided that?
Sure, God willing, I want it to be in Italy.
And your official papers?.
Don’t know. Wherever I can get official documents, I can be. I chose Italy because I have an uncle who lives there, he can help me. If he wasn’t there or I wasn’t sure he would help, I wouldn’t mind opening the shop anywhere. All I want is to have a normal life in which I will be able to live as a normal citizen. That’s why I told you about the papers.
When I asked you about a dream, you said your first dream was going to Italy.
Yes and I told you why, it’s because I have an uncle who lives there.
So your dreams are to go to Italy, get your official papers and open a barbershop.
And to start a family and visit my own family.
So now you don’t have your official Algerian papers.
No I don’t, we faced many difficulties on our way and the police burned them, in fact.
Yes, they burned everything.
Did this happen in Bosnia?
No, on our way from Turkey to Greece, we stayed there and when police answer we escaped and left everything behind. When we went back after three or four hours, everything was burned, they did this so we don’t find food or clothes and starve to death but thank God we were able to continue.
What of your belongings was burned?
My passport was burned, my food and clothes also. They burned everything.
How did you feel at that time? Your brother was with you, right?
Yes. I felt wronged, it was as if they wanted us to starve to death so we would turn ourselves in to the police and they would send us back from where we came. There’s no mercy, it was very difficult when we found everything burned.
And how did you decide to continue after that happened? From where did you get the strength to do so?
God knows, perhaps it’s from our parents’ blessings, my mother always prays for us and says “May Allah make it easier for you. May God help you.” And Allah gave us strength to keep going.
Do you communicate with your family?
Yes, we do.
How do you feel when you talk to your mother?
She wishes to have her children next to her.
She wishes they can grow up in front of her, work and start families in front of her. I know how she feels, I can sense it. And that is my wish too, I wish I can be with my mother. I hope that we can see her when we get back home in the evening and in the morning we would find everything ready and we drink coffee together. Of course we wish things can be like that but reality isn’t like that. Life forced us to be away.
When I asked you about your dream, you said your dream is to open a shop and start a family, how do you think of your own family, would you invite them or bring them here?
It is possible, God willing, for sure, I thought about this a lot, if things got a bit easier then why not. I told you that I wish the mother can with me, we only have her and our two brothers. But we worry about our mother more because we she does not have a daughter, we are all boys so she’s alone.
God bless her. I have the same fear, that I won’t be able to go back to Egypt and my mother is the only thing I could never bear to lose.
Yeah true, we have aunts but no one is like our mother.
Yeah true, would like to ask me anything or add something I haven’t asked about, or if you have other questions. You too, Hussein.
Nothing to add.
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.