About Refugees, By Refugees
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“I wish that… there is no pain in anyone’s heart – that they have to leave their own home behind and come to a place where they have to experience all these insults and loss of dignity.” Mana X (pseud, 32) is an Iranian refugee living in Germany. In her first months in the country she lived in refugee homes that were “dirty” and that made her feel “unsafe.” She experienced “anti-foreigner” hostility, including stones thrown at windows of the centre she stayed in and being spat at. She doubted her decision: “Sometimes I was sitting in the street and starting to cry,” she says. “Were the [better] conditions of living in Europe worth someone insulting you, destroying your dignity, looking at you as ‘foreigner’?” Her experiences have “caused me to… grow to understand what is really happening around you – life is not as beautiful as you think.” Previously, Mana dreamt of becoming a social worker; today, her dream is still to “help people who are really in need, both financially and morally.”
Where do you live now? How is your situation? What do you do in your daily life?
I live in Berlin now. The situation is not very favorable… we try to get by as it is and, in a way, “we” should make the situation favorable. I work in a bakery. But, unfortunately, I can say that I am not happy with the situation. Because I came to Germany involuntarily and since I’ve paid a lot for that, I cannot go back. The culture and people, the people being cold, is very different from our culture. Due to our culture that we, Iranians, are warmhearted and gather a lot together and etc. but here in contrary, people are very cold. People here always see you as a foreigner and that is very annoying. I always thought that in Iran women are always under pressure, but here, although there is more freedom, women as foreigners are under pressure in other way.
Do you have any examples about something that happened to you personally that you can tell?
At the beginning when I came here, I was in Hamburg first. I left Iran illegally, but by airplane, they caught me in Hamburg airport. Something that was upsetting about it was … My final destination was Manchester. They caught me in Hamburg, I was very scared. I didn’t know the language and they were talking only in German. They brought me to the police station. The police station was really like horror movies. There was a lamp that was not working properly and was blinking. There was a long and dark corridor there, and it was also very cold! They sat me there till a translator came. When the translator arrived, they asked me why I came here and how I came, then they got my finger prints, then they took me somewhere that I could sleep. I had no Idea about seeking asylum, since I had to enter this process involuntarily. Then I realized they brought me to a place which was like a container and there was a bed in that. I was surprised and thought, “Is it like this?” I thought if you seek asylum or ask for refugee status in another country, they are going to take care of you and help you. Then they wanted to decide where to send me afterwards. The people who were bringing us breakfast were not treating us nice. There were breakfast packages that they were throwing them at us! This behavior looked very impolite to me, because we usually don’t behave like this. They were throwing these packages at us, like they were feeding a dog. Then they said “eat this food and we are going to leave”. They didn’t care if we understood what they said or not. Then I was told that I should be transferred to Berlin. You had to do everything yourself. They just gave me a paper and told me that you can go to the train station, show this paper and get on the train. We have paid already for the ticket and it is said on the paper. I was scared, as a woman who just entered a new country that she doesn’t know anything about and she even doesn’t know the language, and now, all of a sudden, I was told that I should go from one city to another. Luckily I could find some Iranian men on the way till I arrived in Berlin and got out of the train. I took a taxi to the refugees’ home – The Heim which is known for being a very dirty place. It is the worst refugee home in this city. I went there and the worst part was there [in the refugee’s home]. I remember that I was cleaning the room till 3-4 in the morning. There were a lot of insects and cockroaches in the small fridges there. I had to clean everything so I could use them. The toilets were horrible, it wasn’t possible to use the toilets there. They were all full of grime. I was on a floor that had only one family and the rest were single men. I always had the feeling that I am not safe in Iran, but it was the same story here… I mean, as you were entering and they [men] could see that you are alone and you don’t have anyone as father, mother or husband with you, you could feel the exact same annoying look on you as you felt in Iran. The look that says we can be with her or… There was no safety there. There was some space at the bottom of the door of the room and at night, you could see that those people were standing in front of your room. You couldn’t sleep relaxed at night. Then the fights in the home… all these men were fighting and you could see blood and knives and… Then you would think that I wish I was staying in my own country. Then… after 3 months I was transferred again. The food… the food that they like here, we never have had before anyways. They were giving us food, but no money. Your allowance was 120 euros monthly, which you couldn’t do anything with. You had to pay 27 euros for [tram] tickets, then you had to live with the remaining 100 till the end of the month. After 3 months I was transferred to another home called Hellersdorf. That area, Marzahn-Hellersdorf, is famous for being an area which is anti-foreigner. That place was in a way that every weekend – every Friday, the securities were telling us that we are not allowed to leave the place during the weekend. Because there were people who were against us gathering in front of the place [refugee’s home] and throwing stones at the windows… It was close to the election and when I was going to buy groceries for example, when they saw us, foreigners, they would spit on our faces, for example.
How did it make you feel?
Sometimes I was sitting in the street and starting to cry… [I thought] that why did I come here? Was the [better] conditions of living in Europe worth someone insult you or destroy your dignity and looking at you as “foreigner”? A feeling that you might have preferred to clean other people’s houses in Iran, but not living under these circumstances here. It was very bad. But… because I got a lot of money already from my family for this, I decided to stay. Then I was transferred again to another home, they said this place is now full and we want to give that only to men. The new place had three floors, there were 40 rooms there and they were all men. There was only a family from Serbia, which the husband was drunk the whole time. Afterwards there was one Pakistani family also coming. I remember one night when I was bringing my food from the kitchen to my room, they had a fight. At that moment I just left everything and ran into my room and locked the door. They attacked each other by knife, one of the guy’s legs was injured in a way that you could see the bone of his leg. After that till a couple of days, I didn’t dare to leave my room for my language course or any other reason. But after that, I was transferred to another [refugee’s] home, I was there with some black women. Usually because of their skin, they use special skin oil or the smell of incense that they use or the smell of their food is unpleasant. Then… usually there is no safe place for women. There is no safe [refugee’s] home for women. They say you are a woman, ok. So you can be with 5 other women. And they don’t care what happens to you. In that home I asked for help from a security guy there. I bought a small coach and I asked him to help me bring it in my room. He came and as a thank you I gave him some cookies that I had in my fridge. When he wanted to leave and I also wanted to go and pay for the delivery service of the furniture, he touched me in the corridor. He grabbed my belly, in a way that he is only kidding. Although my behavior was not in a way that there can be something between us. I just wanted to say thank you and offered him the cookies. Then I told the head of the home, she said it is none of my business! And why did you ask my security to help you? You shouldn’t do that next time. Although she was also a woman herself. She couldn’t understand that I am a woman and he shouldn’t have touched me without my permission. I didn’t know the rules at the time, and also didn’t know the language. I called the police and it was very stupid… In Iran we are always scared of police. We always heard that no, it’s different here. The police in Germany are always there to protect people and etc. First that I called, they said we don’t understand what you say. Then I started to explain in English, he said we won’t come for such a small thing and we won’t send anyone there. Then I insisted and asked them to send someone, then they came and told me ok, nothing happened, he just touched you! And they left! I told them, in English, that I want to sue this person. He touched me and he shouldn’t have done that. They didn’t do anything, they came and greeted the head of the [refugees] home, talked in German and laughed and left. They didn’t do anything for me. Then I decided to rent a place for myself. Unfortunately, for renting a place, we are foreigners and because we receive money from the government, they are not nice to us at all. While they all know that the organization that pays for our allowance can support everything. Maybe it is even more secure than renting the place to a private person. Because that organization is obliged to pay for the rent every month. But a private person can just not pay that and ask for it to be paid in installments. I was hurt a lot when trying to find a place… everywhere that I was going and telling people that I am a woman leaving alone and here are my documents, once they saw that I am supported by the job center, they told me that we won’t give the place to you for rent. Although it is for their own government and also Germans who lose their jobs get money from this organization, but this anti-foreigner view that they had …I always thought it is not there anymore and the younger people here slowly are changing their views on foreigners, but it is still the same. Even in my current workplace, it happens that a German customer comes, and speaks with a strong accent or uses old German words that we haven’t heard, sometimes if I ask can you please repeat what you said. They act in a very aggressive way that you cannot understand anything, is there anyone else here that can speak German properly? This anti foreigners look that they have on us is very annoying. Maybe I decided to go back to my country several times, because they don’t insult you this much there…
How does it influence your mood while experiencing such behavior?
Very much… when I experience such things, once I get home, sometimes until one week… Even now that I am talking about it, I am fighting tears. It is very… it feels really bad. It is like that someone is destroying your dignity and your pride … It feels like they want to tell you that you are no one, you are nothing… it doesn’t matter if you have studied or you have a good family… They don’t care… It is enough that you are a foreigner. Doesn’t matter that you pay taxes like them or you have a house like them… None of these matter, if you are a foreigner.
How do you get away with these situations? What do you do?
I try … I try to understand them. I try to imagine if a foreigner was coming into my country, would I do the same to them? I try to put myself in their shoes. Many of them believe that we use their tax money to live. We know that it is not 100% true. Because a country cannot have this much tax that can run its economy and also pay for all refugees. But the interesting part is that I could see that with foreigners who are men and react to their bad behavior, they take one step back immediately and treat them nicely. This is very interesting [sarcastic tone]! A person who doesn’t have anything to do with them, they think ok, we can insult her/him! But with the ones who stand in front of them, they calm down immediately and treat them with respect. I try to keep myself busy with my job, or with my house work and don’t go out much, so I see less of these behaviors. Because if I experience a lot of this, it will become impossible to live here. It is a way that I took, I should either go till the end, or stop in the middle and go back, because I cannot continue anymore. If my husband was not here, I would go back [to Iran] a long time ago. But it is different when you have someone next to you at home, someone that even if you have a hard time outside, can bring you hope at home and you can calm down next to him and say it doesn’t matter, this will pass.
What is your wish now?
[Sigh]… My wish is not only for Germany… but for all people in the whole world, to live in equality and the same good conditions, so no one needs to worry about their neighbor or colleague or a friend that doesn’t have enough food for their family. I wish that everyone can live on good terms and everyone to be equal and all people have the same income that they can live nicely with it. I wish no one needs others financially and no one needs to work for others and have to harm their dignity to make a living.
Do you think that all these difficulties that you have been through for immigration, helped you grow?
Yes, a lot!
Like what? Can you explain?
In Iran. I am a single child and I don’t have siblings. All I was doing in Iran was to go to university, study and come back home. I was living in my parents place and I had good financial status. There was enough that you didn’t have to go at 3 a.m. in the morning to go to work, like here. But… I was maybe a spoiled child that didn’t know much about life and the truth of society… But living here was the reason that I learned a lot about life. I learned that the dreamland that I imagined about the world, is not true. Life is not that beautiful like my dreams. Life is much worse than what I saw while living with my parents. I left my parents’ house relatively late, that’s why I was thinking life is beautiful, everyone is kind and nice, like my parents. Everyone wants to help you, no one is going to trick you… But once I came here, I saw that no, it’s not like this, doesn’t matter where you are, here, Iran or everywhere else in the world, everyone can be a fraud, or not nice to you. This caused me to grow and tell myself to forget about the 10 year-old child inside you and grow to understand what is really happening around you. Life is not as beautiful as you think. Overnight, life can bring you up or push you down the drain…
How do you get away with being far from your family and how does it make you feel?
Only the hope that I can see them once a year is helping me to get through that. The fact that once a year I can spend 2 weeks with them…
How? Do they come here?
No, unfortunately they cannot come here now, because my income is not high enough that I can send an invitation letter for them. Sadly, they [German authorities] make it very difficult for us foreigners to send an invitation letter. For example, I have a friend that a German person sent her an invitation letter and she could get a visa in less than a month. But for us, although we work ourselves and don’t get any allowances from the government anymore, it is very difficult and they don’t let us send invitations.
Why did you leave Iran?
Because… Because in Iran women don’t have any place, no one takes them seriously. In all small things, from their divorces, working in a place…. everything you want to do, they just say “she is a Woman”. If you go to an office, everyone’s eyes are following you because you are single. If you are divorced, they look at you in another way. If you are married, they see you also in another way [and want to be with you]. In Iran, you don’t have this freedom. Our families’ culture and sadly our closed culture, causes lots of harm to women and girls there. They always say “you are a woman” so you shouldn’t laugh loud, you shouldn’t be beautiful. Your father or your husband are your “owners” and you should listen to whatever they say. You cannot have your own opinion. Although I grew in a very open family back there, at school, at university… A boy can easily wear whatever he wants, but you cannot have even a bit of a tight cloth, because you might cause that boy to get excited! All these obstacles that are there for women, make life very difficult for them and they cannot live freely. Also, if they want to criticize the government and say there are these things wrong with this country or government… If you say that, you cannot work, you cannot study and you cannot have a normal life. But here at least, you can talk to everyone about the conditions in this country and say I am not happy with this for example or the economic situation is like that… But in Iran you don’t have this freedom of speech. No one has it, but it is worse for women.
Was this inequality in Iran hurting you? Did it make you angry?
Yes, a lot. I was a person that always wanted to be involved in politics, but my mother, since she had only one child, wanted to protect me and she was telling me “no, don’t go!” Because my mother was working in a public office and saw some stuff that she was always telling me if you enter politics, if you want to voice all your criticism against the government, this might cause us to never see you again. When there was a protest in Iran, I was always participating. Because it was very painful for me to see all young people at my age have all these problems. Also here, whenever we go to a club or we party together with some friends, everyone is happy there, but I am always deep down sad and thinking that there are some people like me now living in Iran and they cannot have fun or enjoy their life there. People there are either looking for a job, or if they are a father, they have to think about buying a household for their daughter, or thinking about providing money for their son to arrange a wedding party… And young people there, if they want to have one glass of wine, they need to go through several obstacles with a lot of stress…If they just want to have fun and dance for one night to forget, for a moment, about all problems and painful things going on in that country, they cannot. Because it is forbidden. Whenever I am in a place where I see young people having fun, part of my heart is with young people in Iran and think of poor Iranians. Why can’t they have even these small happiness?
What was your wish when you were in Iran?
I always wished to be a lawyer to be able to defend miserable people. For some time I liked to become a social worker. When I got my university degree, my mother talked to the head of a prison in Iran to see if I have the spirit or mental ability to have such a profession or not. They transferred me to a children’s prison, for kids below 18 that committed crimes. There you hear a lot of painful things… I wished to be able to protect these children that had to pay for the wrong upbringing by their parents, and they will be executed after they turn 18. I wished to be able to help them survive. I still have this wish that one day, I can have a better life here and have enough money to be able to support such people. It is such a big wish for me that maybe it is even my aim now. I have this always in my mind until I can make it true.
So if you want to summarize it in one sentence, how would you say that?
My wish is that I can help people who are really in need, both financially and morally. I hope that I can help them in any way that they need me. What did you study in Iran? I studied Information Technology in Iran – B.S. I was working in a hospital in the IT department. I was social worker for some time in prison, then I saw I cannot see that much pain. But it was a very good job for me, it made me feel better than the time that I had the IT job. Because you could see people’s pain very closely and you could feel the pain of the society there. I liked that part…
If you want to say something to people who were throwing stones to the refugee homes, spitting on refugees’ faces or treating refugees poorly, to understand us – immigrants who didn’t migrate voluntarily – better, what would you say?
I would say humans are humans, no matter from race and nationality. The only thing that matters is that we are all humans, we all have two hands, two legs, one heart, two eyes… we all have the same body parts and our heart needs to be full of kindness. Maybe someday the situation in your country gets bad and you have to come into our countries… Would you really enjoy such behaviors and insults?
Last word… I wish that the world’s situation becomes so good, that we wouldn’t need to sit and talk about these things. I wish that someday all we have to talk about is happiness and there is no pain in anyone’s heart that they have to leave their own home behind and come to a place where they have to experience all these insults and loss of dignity. It is very painful [weep] . It happens a lot that I miss my country or my city and I wish that I could walk in those streets again, but it is not possible. I really want to see my country again, I say that from the bottom of my heart. I wish that every Iranian can go to his/her country and sit and relax next to his compatriots. Not next to some foreigners that cannot understand them. That is really my biggest hope and wish. That the world works in a way that no one needs any papers like a visa or a passport to move around or travel. And everyone can go freely wherever they want and meet everyone that they’ve missed.
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.