About Refugees, By Refugees

Portrait of Refugee Mamadou Diallo

Mamadou Diallo

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Photo and interview by:




Belal Darder Mohamed

My dream now is the same… studying, working, and helping my family,” says Mamadou Diallo (19), recalling his decision to leave Guinea at the age of 16. With his father too old to work and his mother supporting the family, there was no way for him to stay in school. “There was no other possibility, and nobody helps you, and I decided to leave,” he explains. He left without even telling his family: “It makes me feel a little bad, but always…with the desire of helping them.” The gruelling journey to Morocco took 6 months. “Since there were always some people who died in the desert, I thought I was also going to die,” he remembers. When he arrived, he lived in a forest for 4 months, a time he describes as “very difficult.” Now resident in Spain, he feels “concerned about the future,” but his dream of helping his family is still strong. “I don’t think about negative feelings. I always think of positive feelings and with the desire that I can do it. I can do everything I want.”

Trigger Warning:

full interview

So, Mamadou, tell me, where do you live now?
Now, okay. Now I live, well, in Moncloa.

How is the house? Who do you live with?
There, well, I live with other Moroccans. A shared flat, well, with an organization and I am with them, until February. February, I will have to leave that place.

Is it a house of an association or an organization?
I mean, the house is usually for the Madrid City Council, but like, I mean, I don’t know. The organization took us there, but the, the, the, I mean the apartment, the building if or the Madrid City Hall.

And what do you do in your day?
Well, now… Now I’m working, well, sorry, I’m looking for a job because in the training I’ve done, the training I’ve done I haven’t found work yet. I did a jewelry training as, to work as a jeweler. And then, I mean, working as a waiter. And as a storekeeper. That, I mean, as a waiter, I was in a, in a restaurant, I was in a restaurant on, hum, in January 2020, January-February and there they wanted to give me a contract. And then when coronavirus arrived, the restaurant closed and I couldn’t continue. And now I’m looking for another job. And well, meanwhile, in order not to waste time, studying the ESO (Compulsory Secondary Education). While, while looking for a job, I study ESO.

And what are you doing to feel happy?
To feel happy? For me, to make me happy? Ehh, well… Work, I mean to work or otherwise, be with friends. Yes.

And what else are you doing?
More? So, well, when I study too or when I play football I also feel happy, yes.

And how would you describe your life in Europe?
In Europe. Well, here… life is not easy, especially for us, who come here to learn the language, we have to do training and because, I mean, because of the issue with documents it’s very complicated to have a work permit. And, but, well. But I think with patience and courage, isn’t it?  With courage, I think everything will be fine.

And you told me that life is difficult. How? How is it difficult?
Because since I arrived, I’ve suffered a lot, very much. But I’ve suffered before I got here and when I arrived, I’m still suffering, you know? Although, this, it is just that it’s the same thing, I still suffer because if you are not working, you are undocumented, it’s just that your life is not going to be so, so happy. You’re not going to be so happy. It’s complicated.

And how does this make you feel?
How does it make me feel? Pff. Well, this, this gives me hope. And a lot of effort.

No, but the feeling, how does that make you feel?
With that? Well, I feel a little worried, you know? How to have a job or have legal documents. And to have my house, have a place to live peacefully. But yes, I feel very worried.

And how does this affect you?
How does it affect me?

Humm, feeling worried, how does it affect you?
An example of how it affects? Show me.

It makes you feel depressed, makes you feel frustrated. It makes you feel negative feelings. I don’t know… How, how does this make you feel? What…?
Well, I don’t feel, I mean, negative feelings because I know that one day hopefully everything will change, you know? So I don’t think about negative feelings. I always think of positive feelings and with the desire that I can do it. I can do everything I want, and that.

And tell me more also about the way in which life is difficult here.
How is life difficult here? Well, first, to find a job. And then, I mean, the situation we live in with other people’s treatment, you know? And… and that too.

What treatment?
I mean, because many people from here, I mean, they don’t want immigrants, they ignore you, especially if you don’t, I mean, if you don’t speak well, if you don’t speak Spanish. I mean, they take you into consideration. For example, in the metros there are some… well, to me it hasn’t… well, yes, it happened to me somewhere in Andalusia, but not here in Madrid. But I always hear some friends saying that on the metro, on buses, where a Sub-Saharan, an African is seated, it’s just that nobody wants to sit next to you, and they’re afraid, and they think we are, I mean, they don’t think we’re people like them.

Did this happen to you?
That happened to me in Andalusia when I was in the juvenile center.

What happened?
I was on a bus and there were two, I mean, two women sitting there, but when I sat there next to them, they stood up straight away. That felt really bad, but I didn’t say anything. I didn’t tell them anything, but I felt very bad in my heart. Yes.

So it is difficult to find a job, the treatment from some people, what else? What else is difficult here?
Difficult here?

Being away from the family, does it affect you?
Being, that too, being away from your, from your family. And… and also to have, I mean, legal documents, is not easy for us, to have legal documents, yeah.

And, how does being away from the family affect you?
It affects me a little sad. I mean, not being with my family, having left them as a child I hadn’t learned much with them. But, yes, that affects me a little. And I hadn’t… I haven’t been able to continue, isn’t it, continue, I mean, carry on, I mean, I don’t know how to say that. I mean, the education they gave me. And that here, well not, not everyone educates you like your parents or tell you “I support you” or tell you the truth like your parents, no, no. There are people, but not many people, there are some but not many people. Yeah.

So it really affects you that you are far from the family?

How does it make you feel?
It makes me feel a little bad, but always with, with the desire of helping them. To have a job and help them whenever I can.

To help your family? Do you have brothers and sisters?

How many?
There are 3 of us.

Only 3? Man, I thought you were more!

There are 12 of us!
Mmm. There are 3 of us. And my elder brother died when I was little, a baby, I was, I don’t know, 2 years or 1 year old, something like that.

Then there are 2 of you?
No, I mean, one brother… there were 4 of us.

There were 4…
Yes, since he died, there are 3 of us plus our parents.

And all those difficulties you described to me or you told me about, it’s difficult to find a job, it’s difficult to be away from the family, the treatment from some people is difficult, it’s difficult to legalize your status, to have legal documents. How do you deal with these difficulties?
Well, to deal with this… Uhm, well, always with hope, and… I mean, without hurry.

I mean, what are you doing to deal with this?
To face it, to deal with it? Well… with my, I mean, I don’t know, with my day, but, I mean for me, to deal with this always with effort, with hope and courage. And without creating any problems.

But there is no specific thing that you do, I don’t know, there are people who do sports, I don’t know, that go for a run every day, and this is helpful, right? I don’t know…
Well, I, for me, I like to study and play football. Yeah.

And all these difficulties… And can you tell me: “My dream before coming to Europe was…”?
It was to finish my studies…

Can you say it? “My dream before coming to…”
Well, my dream when I was, when I was little…

Or before coming…
Before I came here to Europe, was to continue studying and to work to help my family.

And now your dream is…?
It is also to continue studying, if possible, if it is possible, to work.

Can you say it like this: “My dream now continues the same, to continue studying and to work”?
Yes, my now, I mean, my dream now is the same. I mean, studying, working, and helping my family.

That was your dream before coming and it’s still your dream now, isn’t it? Therefore, the reality did not change your dream?
Well, it changed because I thought that, I mean, I thought that when, I mean, when I was in my country, I thought when I arrive in Europe, there is not much suffering, you can have everything you want. But here I see the opposite. Although, yes, one day you get it, you’re going to get it, but it’s not easy, not at all.

I mean, you thought it was easier?

So, if you knew it was so difficult, would you have left your country?
If I had known?

Yes, if you had known it was so difficult.
Well, because, yes, though, I mean, I wanted to get out of there because I didn’t have the possibility to study, even if it is difficult. So, I can accept it because there’s a possibility to study here, even at another level, right? Here there is public, I mean, public schools, I mean, public institutes. You can study, do training. But there in my country, for example, in public schools, they don’t teach you well and they always ask you, I mean, they ask families to pay something, because the government does not pay much to teachers. And that’s what mattered to me.

When, when did you make the decision to leave, Mamadou?
When, well, when I was out of school for a year. And I always saw my, my father doesn’t work because he is old and my mother is the one looking for something so that the family can eat something. And she, I saw that she felt very bad because she also wanted me to continue my studies, because I, there I studied well, because I was very smart and studied well. And she did everything so that I could continue, but I saw that it wasn’t possible. And she sent me to, I mean, to the capital, Conakry, with one of my uncles, and there I was with him. I thought he was going to support me to study, and he said he couldn’t support my studies. And from there I went, I mean, I went back to my city. And from there I saw that I was very worried and my mother was also very worried because I was going to leave school. There was no other possibility, and nobody helps you, and I decided to leave. And, always with God’s help, get out to make a living. That without telling to my parents, because otherwise, they weren’t going to allow me…

You didn’t tell your parents…?

How old were you?

And you made the decision to leave Guinea and go to Europe?
Yes. I didn’t even know if I was going to arrive, because since there were always some people who died in the desert, I thought I was also going to die.

How did this make you feel?
Very bad. Seeing people like you dying in the desert. And we couldn’t do anything, just leave them in the desert. Sometimes the mafias come, take them and bury them there, or leave them there in the desert. And so.

And how was the trip?
It was very bad. Very difficult.

How many months?
Well, I’d say that luckily, I was lucky, because it was almost 6 months, because some take longer. But with, with a lot of suffering I was there for 6 months, before reaching Morocco.

And then in Morocco, how many months?
I was there almost 4 months in the forest trying to get in, after several failed attempts, always when they caught us, they’d take us to other cities away from the border. And there you have to look for something, to eat and transport. And there many people begged, that’s something I didn’t like. But I did it, I don’t know, sometimes in Morocco to be able to pay for transport to go to the forest, and to have something to eat. Yeah.

Very difficult.

And after Morocco, did you enter Almeria or Ceuta?


You jumped the fence. What…? What is it like to jump the fence?
Honestly, since there were lots of people and honestly when I got in, I woke up in a hospital with many injuries, I don’t even know what happened at the border. I woke up in a hospital. Yeah.

Did you go to a juvenile center from the hospital?
Yeah, from there, when I was healed, well, I had all the bandages on the wounds, all covered with bandages, and they took me to the juvenile center. They did the test. I told them my age, but they didn’t believe it, no, they didn’t believe me. They did the test, to find out the exact age. And from there they took me…

To the juvenile center in Ceuta?

And how long did you were you there?
A year and 6 months.

A year and a half? Then from Ceuta to Madrid?
No, I went through Seville. I spent a month with, well, with, with some friends, from, an organization that was always going to Ceuta to do activities and they met me there and they told me to stop by Seville to be there with them always and to see if I could if I wanted to be there, I could be there. But there, as I was in a village, there wasn’t any work, and I decided to come here. Always with God’s help.

And do you think a lot about the decision you’ve made? Of…
The decision I’ve made?

Yeah, to leave.
Do you mean, if I think it’s good or bad or how?

Yes, if you think a lot about the moment you left your country, you think… do you regret it?
I don’t regret it. Although I suffered, even if I suffered a lot, I almost died, but I still don’t regret it. I don’t regret it because I took, I took that decision. Because I didn’t know if I hadn’t left my country, what was going to happen to me, you know? So I don’t regret it. Here I am hoping to have a job and help my family, so, with that, gives me a lot of courage and, I mean, without regretting, without regretting, I don’t regret it.

And how, how, how are you mentally, man? How…?

Yes, do you have… I don’t know, how are you?
I don’t have…

How are you? When I ask you how are you… How are you?
Good, healthy, thank God…

And with a lot of concern…

Psychologically and mentally, how are you? Emotionally…

About the future?
About the future, yes… Concerned about the future. How to have a job. How to be able to help my family. How to have my house.  What will my future be like?

What would you say to other, to other guys in Guinea who are about to leave?
What would I tell them… I wouldn’t tell them not to leave because nobody knows someone else’s fate, you know? But I would tell them that it’s very difficult, both the journey and here in Europe, it’s not easy. But I’m not going to tell anyone not to go out, not to go out looking for a better life. I don’t say this to anyone. But I do tell what I’ve been through, or what I’ve suffered, or what I am seeing, or what I’ve seen. I’ll tell them clearly. Yes. No, I’m not going to tell them not to go out, do not go out to look for your life, nobody knows. Maybe there are some who leave, do not suffer much, and some who leave and die on the road. And some come here, come to Europe and die, or some also come, arrive and achieve a lot and help the families and live very happily.

Well, that’s it.
Thank you!

No, thanks to you for sharing this with me.

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.