About Refugees, By Refugees

Portrait of Mamo Ali Baba

Mamo Ali Baba

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Photo and interview by:

United Kingdom


Zozan Yasar

I was dreaming to do my Master here,” says Kurdish refugee Mamo Ali Baba. “I wanted to be a football coach here, but […] I’m not allowed to work.” Mamo has lived in the UK as an asylum seeker for 17 years. Not being able to work has knock-on effects which are “not easy,” he explains. “The only good thing is just being in this country I’m safe. The rest of it is very difficult,” he says. “If you don’t have papers, nothing will bring you joy.” Mamo left Iraq when his brother was killed and he feared he would be next. On his journey to the UK, he often didn’t know where he was and felt himself to be at the mercy of smugglers. “If you don’t listen to them, they have the right to kill you,” he explains. Despite it all, Mamo says he stays positive, “because I created this problem. If I’m not positive […] I cannot face all that difficulty and all the problems.” He refuses to give up: “I’m standing on my feet facing them and I’m strong and I can beat them – one day.”

Trigger Warning: Racism, Discrimination, murder/violence

full interview

Hi, how are you?
I’m good, thanks. How are you?

Thank you so much. Thank you so much for joining our Witness Change, 1000 Dreams Project. So here I will ask you some questions about your life and your past and present and your life and especially I will focus mostly on your strength, resilience and challenges and dreams and what you have been experiencing as a Kurdish person. So some basic question we have just we want to understand your living conditions and because being refugees difficult in this country. And then we want to understand what kind of conditions you are living in. So it’s going to be a few basic questions. And then we will we will go. And if any question you are not happy with, you don’t have to answer and then just you can pass it and then I can, you can go.
OK, Hi, Mamo. Welcome again. So would you please tell me what kind of housing do you live in?

Well, I live under somebody’s care. I live with people. He give me a free accommodation.

OK, so are conditions good or not?
Not really. I’m not happy in there and the guys are not happy I stay with him. But, I don’t have a choice. And I have been living in the city for 12 years and I cannot go live with somebody else or different places because I have all of my friends here. And I cannot move from Edinburgh.

But for 12 years, you don’t have your permanent living situation?
Not 12 years, for 17 years almost.

For 17 years, you don’t have papers?

So how it’s making your life difficult?
This is difficult. If you don’t have anything, you can not work. You cannot do anything. So it’s not easy, you know, and you cannot work. You don’t have any support and you don’t have any accommodation. You live under somebody’s care. It’s not easy.

I know that I’ve been on the asylum process as well. When you asylum seeker, you don’t have right to work. You have basically limited rights in this country. So that must be difficult for you to like not having access to all the services in this country, like as a human being. Right?
Of course. Of course. Yeah.

OK, how do you spend your time?
To be honest, at the moment I study online and nothing serious – most of the time, sleeping, watching TV, and that’s all.

So what are some things that bring you joy? What makes you most happy?
At the moment? Nothing.

Because you know what is going on with my life. So if you don’t have papers, nothing will bring you joy. Even sometimes if you have, if you pass a difficult time, you go abroad or you go to the holiday, you refresh and you come back and you start to do things like normal as well like that. And even the joy things need money you to work. So you have no money. You cannot do anything.

How has life been since you arrived in Europe? And what’s been good about being here? What’s been difficult?
The good, the only good thing is just being in this country I’m safe. The rest of it is very difficult. I’m safe, I live.

Could you please tell me about the difficulties?
Like like, you know, so many things. I don’t know where I start from. It is difficult to start from, from A to Z. Everything is difficult about your breathing. You live, you don’t die. This is positive and rests negative, you know.

Yeah, it must be difficult, of course, for 17 years doesn’t have papers. But this is kind of difficult. And how living here made you without papers for 17 years made you feel? What kind of feeling you have when?
You were like, you know, that living here for 17 years with no visa, I’m going one choice. I don’t have another choice. Like, I just want to live. I cannot go to my back home because my life is in danger otherwise. This is my life. You can’t call it life. You know, I breathe, that’s all.

So how does being away from the rest of your family who is home make you feel?
I have no family back home. I’ve got two sisters and two of my sisters are married. They are on their way and they’ve got kids. I have no, anybody else?

Have you ever felt discrimination in this country? Can you describe it?
What do you mean?

Discrimination? Like racism?
Of course. Of course. This is one of them. I said from A to Z, sometimes people swearing to you cannot do anything. They come in and punch you and you fight them back. You are guilty because you have nothing. And you scared because police come in and you have when they check your name, what do I do? You have no visa. So you go to jail and maybe they deport you. So. You have many difficulties in this country,

Have you ever faced deportation?
No, they’ve been talking about… I’ve been told them if they signed any papers for me, I’m sending back home. They can send me if they want.

Basically, they’re kindly asking you to leave the country.
Of course, they’ve been asking me many times, even I’ve got the refuse. And a month ago, a month and a half ago, just because the death certificate I brought doesn’t look like a death certificate in here. that is it, so the life somebody’s life, 17 years old life, they refuse just because the death certificate in this country, in my country, is not the same. The death certificate in this country. And I brought the death certificate 17 years ago, so it doesn’t like similar to each other.

How old were you at that time?
When do I come here? I just turned 20,

20? Oh, must be so difficult. Could you ever imagine that you would have been able to handle the situation? How have you been able to survive this situation? Because it’s quite challenging at times.

Do you think that you would develop the ability to deal with these challenges or do you think like you have this strength, like from a person?
You know, sometimes you have you don’t have another choice. So this is me. I don’t have a choice. What can I do?

So you need to be strong?
Of course.

So let’s talk a bit about covid-19. How has it affected you and your daily life? You, your energy, and you’re basically emotion?
To be honest, for me, everything is the same. You know, I don’t work. I say it almost all the time. Like the and then the best thing I do, I just walk or I go run. So I mean, I don’t work for me is the same.

OK, and is it possible to like I’m going to ask a few questions about your past. So why did you leave Kurdistan and your country? Please describe because?
Because I’ve go… I’ve got a family problem there. And so I couldn’t leave there. My mmm…, something happened with my brother. My brother killed two people and they killed my brother. And they want to kill me because they are in power and they don’t even want to want to one to one they want two to two. And that’s why I left. I can’t go back if I go so they want two to two and they are in power. They are in KRG. So they go out too much like power in both side in, you know, Green Zone and Yellow Zone, Barzani and Talabani zone. So I’m not safe in there. And I cannot go back to Baghdad because I’m Kurdish and I’m Sunni and I can’t I cannot go to anywhere.

So difficult situation. How was your journey to Europe? Is it an experience that was particularly difficult that you could tell us?
Of course, it’s difficult when you’re under somebody whose hand like a mafia-sleep, sleep, wake up, wake up, go, go, sit, sit. You cannot do anything until you come here. You are asleep. And if you don’t listen to them, they have the right to kill you.

Did you take a long journey like most refugees come from and especially when they come from Iraq to Turkey, Greece?
You come to think about the things like when you are under their care so you don’t see any place they put you in somewhere, sometime night at night and they take you out and they put you back in the same place and you don’t know where you are.

Do you mean smugglers?
Of course smugglers. You are under their care. If they say sleep, sleep, eat eat, wake up, wake up, work, work. You cannot do you cannot say no.

How long were you on the way to arrive to UK?
I don’t remember it exactly.

Yeah, I know. Seventeen years.
Yeah. I have got… My memory is not very good. Past few years.

Could be from trauma.
Of course past few years I, I don’t remember things very well. I if you ask me something, if you tell me something now ask me ten minutes later I hardly remember.

So does this experience affect you? Do you think, on them often so that these difficulties in your life here, like are they just? So what kind of strategies do you use to handle this situation, because it must be very difficult like we are talking about 17 years? What kind of strategy, strengths?
I answer that question – no another choice. No, another choice. You don’t have a choice.

What were you dreaming of when you left Kurdistan?
And I was dreaming to to do my master here, like, I don’t have a plan to come here, but when I come here, so the first things I want to do, a master here then and be another person to help everybody. I even I’ve been in Edinburgh Uni to do my master’s because once somebody is coming here and I interpreting with them. I wasn’t, I was their interpreter I was at Edinburgh Uni with them. And I asked to do my master here. And they say you can’t do it. They have to pay twelve thousand pound a year and I can’t work. So I cannot bring down myself so I just ignored it. Yeah, of course I wanted to be a football coach here, but still I cannot get it because I’m not allowed to work.

Must be difficult. These are all dreams that didn’t come true.
Of course.

So what do you hope? What is your hope for the future?
Me? After 17 years?

No, for the future.
I know but after 17 years, I’m hoping from the day, the first day I come here to 17 years hoping, hoping and nothing come. Will you think I’ve got another hope left? No.

I wish my problem was solved in back when I go back home and live like a human at least. Just live like a human and my wishes, I wanted just to live like a human – nothing else.

From all these experiences. Did you ever feel like there is something positive come out for you?
Of course I’m always positive because I created this problem. If I’m not positive, otherwise, I cannot face all that difficulty and all the problems facing too.

Many people give up and then choose to move away because he’s still waiting.
But see, you see the many people they give up on. You see many people that they become addicted to drugs and to do bad things. But still, I’m standing on my feet facing to them and I’m strong and I can beat them – one day.

Good. So I know, like, um. must be difficult situation, but is there any message that you want to talk on behalf of refugees to talk to Europe?
I just want to send him a message just to look after the asylum seeker as a human. Nothing else. Just accept them as a human. That’s it. We are human as well.

So, yeah. But so many people all around Europe, they have a different view on refugees. but they can change these views.
But they have a different view. So where does that come from? It’s come from the racism. So they don’t have to talk about the humanity or whatever the thing.

Okay. I just want to thanks to you anything that you want to add.
No, Thank you very much.

Thank you so much.
You’re very 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.