About Refugees, By Refugees

Portrait of refugee Laleş wearing a white dress against a floral wall

Laleş Güneş

Pictures taken in:



Photo and interview by:




Handan Tufan

“My dream before I ran away was to do something for the kids,” says Laleş Güneş (29), a Kurdish refugee from Turkey living with her husband in the Netherlands. “We had to escape because of my husband’s political reasons.” Upon arrival in Europe, she drew on her husband’s support: “I had a weak character. But today I see that all the genocide, the massacre, that asylum-seeking process, living with different people, those shortcomings I experienced in refugee camps makes me a really strong individual.” Lales’ dream now is “to work with the refugee children here.” She says: <“they don’t want to be dragged from one place to another. And that emptiness and that trauma they experience as children is actually left as a trauma throughout their adult life as well.” Of her own experience, she speaks of “Laleş before Turkey and today’s Laleş,” explaining that“a whole new Laleş came into being, actually I was reborn. I mean, I gave birth to myself for the second time in a new country.”

Trigger Warning:

full interview

Can you tell us what kind of housing do you live in, Lales?
I live in the Netherlands. I live in Houten, Netherlands .I live in a small apartment. It is a small two-room apartment, but it’s enough for me.

Can you describe your living conditions to us?
We are getting a small- not small but enough for us- monthly income. We’re not working for now. We don’t work on purpose because we’re learning the language. The language is very important for us right now, because I feel incomplete without it. I feel halved, like half of myself. Sometimes I even feel like I don’t even exist. I feel like I don’t have any life on this earth. Because I can’t express myself. Even when I go out to buy bread, if somebody asks me something, I always think in my head what the question really was. Because a person can ask a question that’s completely different. I’m just talking about buying bread, I’m not even talking about everyday life.That’s why language matters to me. Right now, my only goal, one dream, and all I want to do is learn the language. After having developed the language, I will work or try to integrate more. But now I’m just working to learn the language.

Who do you live with?
I live with my husband.

So how do you spend your time here? You don’t work and spend learning the language, right?
Yeah, right.

So what are some of the things that makes you happy? What do you enjoy doing?
I am pregnant right now so I can’t cycle so much. But I enjoy cycling. I enjoy walking in the woods for hours. I’m telling you without exaggeration, for hours and hours. Because when I walk within that greenery and woods, I remember being back in Kurdistan, in terms of the feeling inside me, inside my soul, even if it’s just a little bit. Kurdistan has a lot of greenery as well. I’m not doing much other than that, because I’m already in a very different country, I actually enjoy very few things here.

How has life been since you arrived in Europe? What has been good about being here? What has been difficult? Can you describe how living here has made you feel?
Ever since I arrived in Europe, life for me passes as two Laleş’s: the first Laleş and the second Laleş. I can say that Europe for me has been a turning point and a red line because to me everything about it was from the beginning. I was in a place of a sharp spiritual and physical change. I came from a country with “thank God that you are not dead” mindset to a very free one and as it was difficult to integrate, very difficult. As for the good things, living in a country with happy people made me feel good. But on the other hand, everything I had is left back there. Laleş who had a job stayed there. Laleş who had a family stayed there. Laleş who had a bunch of people she loved stayed there. Here, a whole new Laleş came into being, actually I was reborn. I mean, I gave birth to myself for the second time in a new country. It was very difficult for me, it was very painful. I mean, I found myself in the middle of hell, but in the middle of that hell, I tried to create a little paradise for myself. Both physiologically, physically and spiritually because I had no other choice. Because I didn’t want to burn into that hell. On the contrary, I wanted to be reborn, re-exist and live again.

How does life makes you feel here? How do you feel?
I feel so free here. Yeah, I feel so free here. I’d like to share one small memory. The first year I came here I joined the celebration of Newroz, and when I was walking during the celebration, I saw a policeman walk by me, and I got so scared. I even hid behind my husband because I thought in that moment I would face some sort of attack, a swear word or any sort of reaction. I was so scared. But on the contrary, the policeman made an eye contact with me and looked at my face and smiled and said in Dutch that the celebration is going really well. I couldn’t believe it, it was a first time for me. It was the first time a policeman said something nice to me about any celebration. Because for the first time in my life, I’m 30 years old, I heard a good word from a policeman and I will never forget it. I feel very good, good and safe, in this country actually. But it is only half of me here. I’m not whole.

You’re far from your family, your house, your loved ones. How does that make you feel? You’re saying that only the half of you is here, is that connected with this?
Yeah. I’m a very domestic person and I’m very attached to my mom and dad, very attached. Actually even when I was a dentist assistant for 8-9 years, I was helping them a little bit. Family is sacred to me. I love them. I mean, I love my mother and I love my father and my sibling(s). Seperating from them was a first time for me. We have never been apart for a very long time before. When they come to my mind my heart aches and I feel really, very sad. I miss them.

And would you ever have guessed you could deal with this situation? How do you handle it?
I could never have guessed. I felt so weak and I thought I was powerless. Laleş always leaves everything halfway. I was saying to myself that Laleş is powerless and is not complete. It was like that up until I started this adventure abroad. Right now I feel really strong and very good. I have never told my family how I lived through. My life at camps, the problems I had with people, my rebels and revolts. That I cry every night. I have never told them that I didin’t want to accept this. I laughed every time they called, and maybe I was fake, but I have chosen this life. Nobody brought me here by force. I had to learn to fight it because I came here with my own will. That’s why I feel this way right now.

And do you think your ability to deal with these challenges developed here? Or do you think you always had these abilities?
I never knew I had these abilities before. People around me, especially my husband. Once he said actually, you were really strong, I could see it in you. And I realized in myself that I could notice it. Actually, I never knew I was so strong. I didn’t know. When I got here, I realized I was strong.

How did the pandemic COVID 19 affect you? How was your mood?
So there is a thing. We already lived in a camp and we already lived there as during the pandemic. For us, COVID 19 was not a very extreme situation. All we wanted to do, our actions, emotions and thoughts were already limited. In fact, I want to say something like this. During the pandemic lockdown, a journalist cousin called me and told me that now they understand us better because we already lived in camps. Because it really was. There was nothing different for us. Before the pandemic, I walked in the woods every day. And during the pandemic, I walked in the woods. I used to cycle every day. I was cycling during the pandemic. I used to spend time with my husband every day. I was with my husband during the pandemic. There was nothing different for me, actually.

Well, I’m gonna ask questions about your past now. Why did you leave your country? Can you tell us what happened?
I left my country because of my husband, but I’m not saying it in a bad meaning. I’m saying it with a good feeling in my heart. We had to escape because of my husband’s political reasons. My husband was under a short arrest before, and then we ran away and came here. But this story was already very familiar to me. When I was little, I didn’t see my father for 6 to 7 years. My father had been imprisoned for help abetting. I had a choice to avoid the fate of my mother for the same thing to happen to me. And I fled to Europe. I didn’t want to experience the same thing as my mother because it is very hard. I wanted to be more free. It’s hard when your husband is not with you. And I was very in love when I got married. That’s why I wanted to go to this companionship with him. I came without fear because of my husband.

And then how did that make you feel when you were leaving your country.
That country I lived in wasn’t my country at all. To date, I have never had a place of my own. I was born in 1991. My village was burned down when I was born. It was like we didn’t exist. So we had to go to a different city and make ourselves real and alive. I’m still having the same thing right now. Actually, I feel like I’m repeating my life again. That’s why this all looks familiar to me. I mean, it’s not too extreme for me because I already had experienced the same thing. I’m experiencing the same thing right now.

So how was your journey to Europe? Do you have any special experience you can tell us about the journey?
I came without trouble. I came here using normal and usual ways. I just want to say this. I was on the run for six months and I had to stay at some dıfferent place and dıfferent people. That process was too painful for me. What kind of problems I had during that time? I can say it like this. I was an individual. I had my own fields, my own likes, I had a world of my own. And I lived with people I never knew. They were good people, yes, but everything was different. The standards of life were very different. Their look at life was very different. We were never one. And I had to live with them because I was a fugitive. I was scared. I was so scared to go out. I was so scared when I saw a policeman. But I had no choice. I was very unhappy, so unhappy, I couldn’t integrate. All I did every night, the first six months came was crying. Just like a newborn baby, I was just crying just to prove I’m alive. But I understand right now that I might have had different orientations instead of crying.

So is there anything you constantly think about, any story about Turkey? Or what do you often think about, in particular?
Is it about myself?

It’s about yourself. So, is there something that keeps your mind busy?
My loved ones. I constantly think about Turkey, my family. In fact, they live in a country that is not fair to most people in Turkey. We hear news of death all the time. We read the news of the massacres all the time. We’re constantly hearing news of female massacre. In particular, we hear the oppression and persecution of the Kurds. The most important thing is that the chairman of the party we voted for, Selahattin Demirtaş, was imprisoned. So we read the news about him. The fact that there are people in prisons and, especially, women are currently on the hunger strike . And as I hear, read and witness them from afar, I feel really, very sorry, and I constantly read these news. I never leave myself missing the news. It hurts me very much, it hurts me, and I constantly feel the pain. I wish I could do something.

So what do you feel then?
I feel like my father wasn’t there. It’s like my dad wasn’t there when I was a kid. So when I see them (the people on the news) it feels like my father is not here with me. It’s like my father’s time in prison.

Can you tell how do you think your past experience affect you today?
I believe I’m a little stronger now. I used to be a lot more sentimental, but now I’m a little stronger and more appealing. I try to read more, think more, understand more. Because when I’m very impressed and weakened, I can’t do anything.

And I’m gonna ask you this question again, could you imagine you could handle all what you have been through? Today, for example, you feel more free, but you’ve gone through a very difficult process. In Turkey, could you ever say that you could handle it all?
I would never say it. Sometimes I say that if I return to Turkey today, they (my friends) will tell me what happened to you, Lales. Because I was very weak. I mean I had a weak character. But today I see that all the genocide, the massacre, that asylum seeking process, living with different people, those shortcomings I experienced in refugee camps makes me a really strong individual. It makes one a really strong individual. All that you’ve been through is actually going back to you as an experience.

How do you think you get the power and support?
I actually got the power and support from my husband first. We always talked to each other and we constantly tried to understand each other. I also got it by reading. I read books all the time. I believed everything would be fine. I mean, I wanted to convince myself of it. Because I had no other way, no choice. I mean, everything was gonna be fine. I was thinking that maybe what I was going through was actually something that I grew up in my head. People were experiencing much worse things. I was alone with my husband in the camps, but there were also a single woman and she had a baby. Some of them were single women wıth fıve chıldren, and they had to stay in those camps. Some of them were lonely men. And maybe they had repeatedly attempted suicide. I feel stronger when I think about them. In fact, they made me feel strong, maybe.

I’m going to ask you to reply this question in a single sentence. What was your dream before you escaped your country?
My dream before I ran away was to do something for the kids.

What was your dream when you left Turkey? What you dreamt about at that moment?
To live free. When I left Turkey, my dream was to live freely.

What do you think were your strengths before you left your country?
Before I left Turkey, my strength was in my common sense. I was trying to understand people. I wanted nobody to be alone. Especially those who have been through a lot of suffering. I always wanted to be next to someone who really suffered and help them.

Do you think that your character has changed?
No, I’m still like this.

Things you’ve been through seem really hard. I’ve been through the same things. I understand you very well. Do you think that all that you have experienced leaves something positive to you? Do you think you’re growing up?
I definitely think I’m growing. So as I said, I split up as Laleş before Turkey and today’s Laleş. I grew up a lot, and I think there’s a lot of burden on my shoulders. Because I grew up.

What’s your dream now? What are you dreaming about currently?
My dream now is to work with the refugee children here.

Thank you very much for answering all the questions and I am grateful to you.Finally, is there something you want to say to the people in Europe to better understand the lives of refugees living in Europe ?
I want to specifically refer to children. We are adults. We somehow find our way through the pain. There is a saying running water finds its way. But the kids are very lonely. They’re so playless and unloved. I think they’re in a huge emptiness. I mean, I worked with the kids in my first camp. The only thing they want in those refugee camps is a free life. They don’t want to be dragged from one place to another. And that emptiness and that trauma they experience as children is actually left as a trauma throughout their adult life as well. Even today, I’m talking about the trauma that my father was arrested when I was a kid. It’s like a trace that trauma in that camp they lived as kids, stays on them for a lifetime. I think there should be a lot more focus on those kids. It is not only about playing with them, but in every sense, both in the sense of emotion and in the sense of thoughts. I think the thing that affects me most is refugee children.

Thank you.
Thank you.

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.