About Refugees, By Refugees


Pictures taken in:



Photo and interview by:




Handan Tufan

What I dream about is for a safer place for queers in Morocco,” says Mamakil (pseud, 28). “I want to live long enough to see it happen.” In 2017, Mamakil fled to Europe, and is now a refugee in Amsterdam. “I wanted to feel good and safe,” they say of fleeing. “It is criminalized, our identities and our existence as queers and trans in Morocco, and that in itself is a danger.” Leaving was “very hard” for Mamakil. They arrived in the Netherlands “with nothing”. “I am very dissociative when it comes to feeling at home, because I am still attached to Morocco.” “Imagine having to leave everything you’ve worked for, people you love, and your goals behind you,” they say of their experience as a refugee, though this has made them “stronger and wiser”. They are now an activist and a DJ, and have a “really great support system”: “I love my friends, my community and my chosen family; they’ve been really supportive.” But their dream remains the same: “to see my community striving and thriving in Morocco.”

Trigger Warning: Homophobia

full interview

Hello, I’m Handan. I make today an interview with you, uh my, our interview about Witness Change. Witness Change is a project about a refugee story. And your experience is really valued for us, and we hope, we hope we can help people to be more understand of your situation with your story a, with your stories and you don’t have to be identified in the interview, because the picture and the interview, your name and your photo published, if you wish you don’t. And the interview… Yeah, after the interview forms for signature about permission. And in the interview, I will ask you, maybe, some personal question if you, uh, dont,  if you feel sad, bad and unfelt, you can see me, then we can break in the interview and do you have any question about the interview?
Yes, what kind of, uh, personal questions?

Personal question? I don’t know. Maybe you think personal question? Yeah, I think I don’t have a personal question, but maybe you can. Yeah. Another question you have?

OK, we can.
Like this? Recording? Like this is recording?

Yes, what kind of house do you live in?
House? This is my apartment. It’s, uh, 40 square meters. It has a living room that is separated to a kitchen and, uh, living space and reading corner. And I have my bedroom.

Yeah. Uh, who do you live with?
I live alone just with myself and my cats and…

Uh, how do you spend your time in the Netherlands? Do you work?
No, I uh don’t have a job that is, uh, regulated. I do, however, uh, uh, volunteer work. I organize events. And I, uh, also I’m active, uh, active with a group of refugees that is called SEHAQ, SEHAQ Refugees Group. And, uh, also I deejay. And it was, uh, Saturday I had a gig was, uh, really nice.

And what are some of the things that bring you joy?
Oh, I think the things that still bring me joy are my community. I think I still hold on and I live through them and thrive through them, because I myself when I arrived here, I arrived with nothing. And I’ve been offered a roof over my head, money, gigs, and network and food, just the minimum thing and all from people who don’t know me from the beginning. And also the care and the love from them. So I think I really appreciate that. That’s what brings me joy in life.

How has life been since you arrived in Europe and what has been good about being here? What has been difficult for you?
What, uh, I arrived here to Europe, uh, 2017 on the, the, 19th of July, and I arrived in Toulouse, France, and, because I had a French visa, and, uh…Yeah, I stayed in Toulouse for 10 days because we went to this summer school for queers, for queer activists, and after that there were a group of people, of refugees coming from the Netherlands. And it was going to be the pride week in the Netherlands because it’s August, July. And he said, “Hey, come with us to the Netherlands, maybe you will like it”. Because in the beginning, I wanted to stay in France and ask and seek asylum there. But it didn’t work like that. And thankfully, I came with people because I didn’t know anyone either in there. And when I came here in the end, I was also like a baby queer. I, like everything is rainbows. Everything is fine. I didn’t, I didn’t experience anything bad, it was like I was living a dream, I was living a fantasy. I was in so much disbelief in that moment. So I was just charmed with the city, so I decided, OK, maybe I should stay here and my friends helped me to find a lawyer to ask him for help. So he told me that because I had the French visa, I had, I was under the Dublin regulation. So I need to wait until my visa expires. And then after that six months and then after that, I can apply. So for nine months, I stayed undocumented. And that was a very hard time because I felt unstable in my whole core. I didn’t know whether I’m going to be deported the next day because, I don’t know, maybe I will get arrested or something. But thankfully I stayed out of trouble. So, um, during that time, that period of nine months, I didn’t stay home or something, I was always active. I was going to parties and organizing events, deejaying, knowing people and people that really pushed me into really taking, uh, taking myself and taking me serious. So, yeah, it was in the beginning really hard, but I, like, from, for the most of it, I am very, I am very glad of it, I’m very grateful because it’s been a good experience, at least with the people that I had in contact with. And uh yeah, I couldn’t ask for more because all the solidarity came from the community and also the encouragement, because when I started deejaying, I started as a joke. It was a party and no one was there to make music. So I was like, OK, I’m going to be the deejay. And actually, they liked the music and they started asking me to put music more often. And it was just my laptop and sometimes with my phone. And it was until they really offered me like, hey, there’s a gig here, maybe you need to practice like that. And I started to take it seriously and I brought myself, Gary, and that went along to really ameliorate myself and see, maybe there are other things, like, I don’t need to just stay still and wait for things.

Yeah. Can you describe how living here has made you feel?
Living here, um. Actually, uh. I am very dissociative when it comes to feeling home, because I am still attached to Morocco and leaving, it was very it was very hard for me. I, I’m still till this day don’t believe that I am here. And sometimes I just go in the street, are like, OK yeah woah, I realize it from again and again. And so in, I would say that it’s very hard to be away from my family, from my home. It’s and from also the things that remind me of my identity. So along the way, I need to remind myself of my identity and to surround myself with alternative family, with my chosen family, because, yeah, we need, we need, we need intimacy. We need that context with other people.

And how does being away from the rest of your family and home make you feel? For example, how does the feeling of the belonging and discrimination in the impact you? Can you describe?
Belonging, I’m sorry, I didn’t understand the question.

Belonging and dis-discrimination in the Netherlands.
Ah here, the, how’s the feeling of the belonging. I really, I really am trying very hard to feel that I belong here, even though that I’m trying. I do claim my space, I do take up my space and my time into creating some things for myself and for other people like me. But, um, it’s, I don’t know how to say it, but it’s very hard for me to feel like I belong here. It’s taken a lot of energy. But I think also that’s what what the system is, the way they, we are going actually in this, in this direction into getting integrated into society to feel that we belong. Actually, it’s not the country that I feel like I belong to, it’s my community, it’s the people that I am with. And, and even my cats, like they make me feel home. Coming into this house, doesn’t make me feel whole. It’s just seeing or thinking that I’m going to see my cats and my family and my friends. Those people and those feelings that make me feel at home, actually.

Could you ever have imagined that you would have been in this situation?
Can you?

Yeah. Could you ever have imagined that you would have been to have this situation in the Morocco?
Would I have imagined if this-

Would happen to me?

Happened, uh, you. For example, in Morocco, you think, I have to go Netherlands? I- Yeah.
Oh yeah. Yeah, no, no. Actually, it was not prepared. It was not think of. Actually I have never mentioned Netherlands on my mouth before coming to the Netherlands. Yeah. And also thinking of leaving Morocco. It was very, it was very hard because I traveled a lot to other places. I went to Saudi Arabia for three years. I went to Turkey for two years. But leaving Morocco to the Netherlands was not prepared. Actually, I had a visa to the summer school to, to France and I, until the last week, the last week I had in Morocco, a lot of things happened and accelerated, so I needed to flee. And thankfully I had the visa already. So I fleed. And yeah, my first thought was, OK, I’m going to stay in France until my friends actually said, you need to come with us. Maybe you will like it and I actually liked it. Yeah.

Do you think that you developed that ability to deal with these changes, or do you think you always had this skill, strange mechanism? You say resilience.

Did I learn this, being like this, or did I always been this resilience? I don’t understand. Can I read the question?

Yeah, here.
How I had those skills training mechanisms, resilience? You think that you developed the ability to deal with these challenges or do you think you’ve always, ah ok. Yeah, um. I wouldn’t say, I think, I think this is a yeah, I’m talking of how my PTSD and borderline, I think I’ve always found a way to be OK, so. There was, it’s, I don’t, I don’t know how to say, yeah, I was always this resilient, but it wasn’t this easy because you get crushed every time you need to rebuild yourself, and it’s very hard to rebuild. And sometimes you don’t you don’t get to. So you need to really a little bit of a push to rebuild yourself and to, to build that strength back. And I wouldn’t say that I’ve always had these skills or these mechanism. I’ve had a lot of help from my friends, actually, to rebuild myself from from the start because I’ve been broken once and twice and three, and it was all the same time, like, oh yeah, you get depressed, you cry and you think that’s the end of the world. And then you need to, again, find a way or something is never gonna, gonna change. And I think now I do believe that there’s, I need to find a way. I need to find a solution. And that’s I think now I can be pragmatic in that way and more rational in that.

OK, how was COVID-19 for you?
Um, actually, I stayed most of the time at home because I am very afraid of, um, I’m germophobic. And when it comes to diseases, I’m very sensitive, I get, I get easily sick. So, um, in the beginning it was very hard because I got isolated, and also my source of energy was socializing with my community. It was going to parties, was deejaying, was meeting people, was doing something. But they take, that had been taken all away. And I felt alone for a long time because also a lot of people was hard on them. You can’t put, I can’t put my, my, only my emotions on someone else. They have also their difficulties and their problems. So and also for work, because you don’t, you don’t get to do anything. So we needed to find a way to go around it. So we started the Zoom parties and then I started to deejay from home and everyone is in their bedroom or their living room and they’re partying and they’ve else and I think that’s great because it’s also a reminder that we need to stay connected like we need to distance physically, but not really emotionally, not really socially, we need to stay connected and. For, for the most of this period, I, I it’s going to sound cheesy because a lot of people actually had the time because we yes, we were exhausted. I was exhausted into working every day, thinking every day and meeting people every day. And that took a lot of space and a lot of energy from myself. But when I stay with, alone with myself and I had a lot of time. I rediscovered myself and I connected with my cats, I connected with my books again, I could start writing and I could be more creative with my stuff, I could take care of myself, cook for myself and just the small things that you never really get to do. You really notice it, and taking care of yourself is really important. So I, I did that.

And now it’s your past. And why did you leave your country and can you describe what happened?
OK, I’m not going to get into the details, but I’m going to tell you that in Morocco it is criminalized, uh, our identities and our existence as queers and trans in Morocco, so, under the penal code 489. And that in itself is a danger. And it’s allowing other people to jump in to take use of that law into using of you and dehumanizing you and just plain, it’s just discriminating against you, you’re not really a second degree citizen, you are not even you don’t have rights because that’s what you’re doing. And I think that’s, that’s really sad. That’s really sad to see that a lot of, a lot of queers from Morocco that came here actually suffered through that. They had to leave their home, then they had to leave their families and friends and lives into this new world and need to, again, start from below zero. I think it’s very traumatic. And, yeah, I don’t know how to say it, but can we not please? I don’t want to talk about that. Yeah, let’s just talk about, yeah, me here and that’s it, yeah.

How did, how uh, how did that make you feel at the time? For example, you come when you come, uh when you go to Morocco. When you, when you come in Netherlands, what feel you in the Netherlands for the first time?
For the first time, I was, oh, I was captivated. I came here the first of August, and it was it was pride. Every, every street it was rainbows, rainbows everywhere. People wearing rainbows, rainbows flying, just like, I was captivated. I was in such disbelief that everything was like in a fairytale, like a fantasy world. And there was music, people drinking and people laughing, there were people talking. There was no, I didn’t see any, any problems. And it was like such a magical time in the beginning. And I think that’s what’s got me, it’s ok, I need to stay here because it was nice in the beginning.

How was the journey to Europe? It was for you difficult or easy?
It was well, in the technical way it was easy because I took, I took two planes to Toulouse. I took a plane from Marakesh to Casablanca, from Casablanca to Toulouse. So technically it was OK. But on the emotional side, I was, I was traveling with a friend and when actually the, the, the plane was leaving is when we found that, yes, we are not going back. And through all that time that we were preparing, we’re leaving, we’re going, we’re not going back, we didn’t think about it. And it was until we were on the plane and it was leaving and we were leaving the borders, and it looked like things are starting to just to seem small, that we started to feel it, like we’re leaving, we’re not going back, this is, this is it. So, that, we just started crying for the whole trip. And until we fell asleep, yeah.

Pretty quickly, is it?
Yes. Because it was a plane. It was a flight. Yeah.

Uh, for example, when you leave your country, what did you think at the airport?
In the, in the airport waiting. We were scared, because we were going through the passport check and we were afraid that our names will be on that, that we won’t, we can’t leave. And like, we were all like yellow and we were like changing of color and our eyes and we just stressed and scared, and it could show. But we managed to stay calm a little bit. So because we had to wait for one hour. And through that hour, there was a lot of scenarios going because we were seeing like police running or people running like that and we would get like triggered. We would get scared that someone know, they know us, they’re going to get caught and that’s it. But when we went to the passport check, and then we just stayed, like, cool, like, yeah we do this all the time and like that. And yeah, he kept asking us, well, asking me questions like, what are you going to do there, like everything is in the papers, like I don’t have to. I acted like I was, I was like all bitchy and like, you can’t talk to me like this, like it’s all in the papers. Like I can’t say this again, like play this this role. But I was scared shitless. I was scared to my core and yeah, I was like, like this. And then he saw the passport. It was new and everything was good. So he, that, and then we went through and then we, through every police officer we have this fear, because we, still here I still have this fear and phobia from police officers because we had to go through all of these checks of police and to check the passport, check the suitcase and everything. And they all wear uniform and they’re all scary, you know, but like the Moroccan police, like, very classic and with the mustache and everything. So, yeah, it was very scary, just like, like our hearts, like racing a hundred in front of a police officer and then we go again, OK, we’re good. We’re going to pass this. And then we got into the free zone. And again, we found in the, like, when we were going to get our tickets and boarding passes taken, there was also a police officer. And we thought that because normally there are none, that only the people who are working on the plane who are supposed to be checking the boarding pass. But there was a police officer there, so we thought that maybe they called and they, so we had all this imagines and like scenarios: No, they’re still on us, they’re still on us, we can’t get away. And then we, when we did, we didn’t believe it.

And do you think about this event often?
This event?

Not really. This is the first time that I thought of it in December.

I think, I think that all of these things that happened before, actually, and during my leaving, my fleeing, I kind of suppressed in my, in my self and just and just not not deal with it, it’s just I think I thought it was going to be easier. I need to focus on what am I going to do. I did that. And that is done. Now what am I going to do. And that’s the thing I don’t want to, because when I do, I get drawn, I get really drawn into it and I can’t get myself up.

And that’s the situation, that’s the situation you felt it affect you today or nay? For, for your experience in Morocco.
Did what sorry?

That situation, you know, you felt attacked today, attacked today? One example of your experience? I don’t know, maybe you have experienced the danger that you have experienced.

Nay, in Morocco.
No, actually, in Morocco, I haven’t been attacked by anyone, actually. And even though that some people knew my face like this, I haven’t been attacked. Actually, I’ve been attacked in the Netherlands twice.

Because I look queer and I have the short hair and both of them were, were Moroccan men.

And, uh, one of them was was a van driver. I was bringing my, just recently I think like a couple of months, was bringing a bed, and I was wearing this intersex shirt and have like a, like a male body a female body and I and sex and inter like that, it was like a full-blown and it was yellow so you can see it. And I don’t know what happened, but he started just to shout, but because, yeah, because I, I let him wait for 10 minutes, because we were unscrewing the bed. I told him, like, ten minutes I’m going to. And then he was like, you left me waiting. And then I’m like, OK, we don’t need to shout, we don’t need to fight, just let’s go, and then I paid you, let’s just go. And then from there, he didn’t like that, because how could I reply to him, this glorious man, I bet. That was, that was very, there was a very weird situation and also very, very hard because he thought that he’s like superior. And when I said, no, you can’t, you’re not, and you can’t treat me like this and you can’t say this to me, and he started to get more and more angry. And it was very, it was a very scary situation. I called Rosenblum and, uh, and I told them about like, I talked to them, like, for an hour explaining what happened, everything, giving my information. But I didn’t report it, that was the only report, just because he threatened me before leaving, he said that I know where you live. It’s like, OK, no, I do know where you live also, because of your license plates and because of your number. So I’m going to say this, say this to the police. And for that week I didn’t stay alone, my friend stayed with me because I was scared that maybe if he didn’t come, maybe he will send someone because I wouldn’t know if someone with this person would attack me if they don’t know me.

OK, hoo. Could you ever have imagined that you would have been able to have that situation?
This, yeah, no, no. I, I wouldn’t have imagined that I would go through it in the beginning, but  when it happens, they just go, everything is going very fast and then you just, you don’t know how to, to, to handle it. But thankfully, because he did assault me, like he did push me and thankfully, I didn’t push back or something so that it would really get really physical, even though that I was in the right. It was very yeah, I wouldn’t I wouldn’t wait to experience this, no.  

Where do you feel strength and support?
Where do I feel strength and?

Yeah. You have, uh, yeah, we have in the Netherlands, uh, difficult life, uh, I think we, uh, because for, uh, for us Netherlands is very new land and very new work.

Uh, I, I have support with my friends, for example. Yeah, and for you, have a support? For example, your pets. And I don’t know, your friends much?
Like, things that I like to do to make me feel good here?

Yeah. I miss, I miss my friends, well not all the time, actually. I just sometimes call them on the phone and have video chats, but one friend that comes regularly, actually, and I, I take care of my cats and actually, and the plants, so that gives me also joy and making music creating mix. Also doing good on uh, in school, I feel like I’m achieving good, I’m doing good. Also, it makes me feel good about myself.

For you, support is?

Support is-.
Like I know sports is

Not sports, support my…
Oh, support.

Yeah support.
Support system like, oh, supporting sorry. Oh yeah, I do get support from my friends. They’ve always been supportive of me, always. And they’ve always pushed me into my, beyond my beliefs and my imagination like this. They’ve been so good to me. I love my friends and my community and my chosen family, they’ve been really supportive. I have, I think I have a really good support system. Yeah. Yeah.

And for this question, uh, I, you, you can well. For example, before the event that made you feel awkward, uh, what was your dream? My dream, uh yeah. Yeah, my dream is, my dream was this in Morocco, for example?
Yeah. My dream in Morocco was to have a house, to live with someone and just to live a normal life, just like watch TV or read books and do groceries, eat together and just enjoy life. Something really simple. And I still actually dream of it. I still think that I can achieve this traditional dream of mine. I think I am traditional in that sense.

And it is a similar question: When you were leaving your home, what was your dream? I dreamed that.
When I was leaving home? I didn’t, I wasn’t dreaming of anything. I was so focused on going away, I was just focused on leaving and just, just find safety. I just, I think what I wanted at that time was safety and want, I wanted to feel good and safe.

And before leaving your home country what would you describe as your characters?

Uh, yeah.
My character, like personality?

Yeah strong character.
Who I am all, I was also always a strong character, but I am also very sensitive, um, as in I am very, I have this high morality, and just things that I’ve been taught in childhood that I still hold on to myself, and I think that’s it myself when someone talking to me as I need to respect them and give them their chance and everything. But I think for myself, I am very, I am very strong. I, I was strong at that time, but I was also a child. I was naive. I was, I was creative, I was creative as hell, but I also was weak because I was strong in personality. I was weak in network. I didn’t have anyone beside me. I was alone.

In Morocco, and Netherlands ok yeah?
And yes, it’s better even though that there I had the very wide network and people know me, but I, I didn’t have this support system. So this is the, the difference is, I think I have better people around me. I have better system around me, so I am stronger now. I think I was stronger in character and was fighting because… Yeah, when, when like you get fist on your face you can’t just try the defense. You need to throw stuff. It’s also like you need to also show strength, and, but without a support system, without someone helping and being beside you, I think you, I’ve, I’ve always needed that, yeah.

Ok I understand, and I think it is this situation of ours is very difficult I think, but for your question.

Yes. Do you feel like you have grown in any way as a result of this experience or has anything at all positive for you?
Yes, I have grown so much in this and I think, like, I have, I think I matured in my time. I, and, I , that I’m going through all of these things made me stronger and wiser and more grown and, into understanding also how to deal with other people and to deal with myself and to know, understand my boundaries and to also be pragmatic and seeking how to help myself in order to help others. So, yeah.

And, um, what are your hopes and dreams for the future? It is, ok, my dream is this one.
Yeah, woo, this is the hardest, this is the hardest question ever. What is my dream? I don’t know, like, can it be anything? Or do I need to achieve, something that I want to achieve?

You’re not helping.

For example, my dream, my dream is for future.
Oh, what I dream about, actually, is for a safer place for queers in Morocco, and I think that is, I think, my highest dream and fantasy and I want to live long enough to see it happening, that would be very nice. And other than that, so I think I’m still dreaming about that home and just simple life, and, yeah.

Ok, can you say again, my dream is.
My dream is to see my community striving and thriving in Morocco and free from colonized laws and laws of the colonizers. So yeah, that’s, that is my dream.

Oh, thank you very much for everything.
You’re welcome.

And, uh, for last. Is there anything you’d like to add that might help people in Europe understanding that life of refugee?
Well, um, I don’t know how to, for people to, uh, to explain to them to understand the life of a refugee, but imagine having to leave everything you’ve worked for, people you love, people you’ve planned your whole life and your goals behind you. And you’re just running, you’re running. And you’re exiled, you’re, you’re not wanted. It’s very, it’s very hard, just to say the least. But I think what I want to say is for people to listen, to give space for, for refugees in order to make their own thing and take their own space, create their own things and, and also hold on to their culture, because it’s very hard in this Western white-dominated society that it’s very hard to hold on to your culture, because we also have our languages and also other languages that have been forced on us in our countries. And now we need to learn another language in order to integrate into this society. So I think that is very hard on a lot of people and what the people need to hear and to know and to understand is to respect that. Respect that, that cultural difference and that language difference and it can be sometimes a barrier, so to also be respectful.

OK, thank you very much.
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.