About Refugees, By Refugees
Trigger Warning: Death, suicide, religious discrimination
I explained the project to you and you can ask me any question that you didn’t understand and I will explain it to you again. You can ignore answering any question that you do not want to answer or do not feel comfortable with. You can tell me to take a rest if you feel tired. Can you please introduce yourself?
Thank you very much. I am Masomeh Hussaini. I am 15 years old and I am from Afghanistan. I was born in Afghanistan and I live in a family of seven. We are here with my parents and the whole family. We live in Athens. This place is about 20 minutes away by bus. And that is it, I think.
In what type of house do you live? Is that a house or a camp?
It is a government-leased house.
A government-leased house. And you live with your family?
Can you explain the situation of your house? How is it?
Does your family live alone or are there other families there as well?
We live alone because we are seven people. It has two bedrooms and one small 12 m2 hall and a small kitchen. It is a very small, tiny house, not a big one.
How do you spend your time? What do you do during the day?
Every day when I wake up, well, I participate in different activities. First of all, I play soccer in the morning, from 9 in the morning to around 12. I have my soccer session during this time and practice. After that, I am a volunteer somewhere. It is a type of helping people through different organizations and helping them until 6. In between, I either read books or watch movies there. There is not much work to do. After that, I go home. I’m home at about 8. At home, I mostly write. I start writing about my day or my plans for the days to come, for my future and many other things. Then, these are all the things that I do.
You said that you work as a volunteer somewhere. What do you do?
Yes, it is mostly interpretation. My English language is a bit good and I translate for the people who come there but don’t know that language, so I translate for them.
What makes you happy and enjoy your life?
It makes me feel good when I see the color yellow. It makes me feel really good. Yellow color, or when I see the sunshine anywhere where there is a shadow. And writing is also very effective in keeping me happy, as I have understood so far. Also, I love walking very much.
How has your life been since you came to Europe? What good things did it have for you and what problems has it created for you?
Well, my life has changed a lot from the time I came here and it has gotten better from what it used to be. I am very happy. I didn’t have the right to play soccer when I was in Iran and faced many problems many times so I couldn’t play my soccer. I couldn’t even follow my dreams there. They wouldn’t accept the pieces that I would write. When I came here, well, … I am writing. There is a newspaper where I publish my writings. Also, I play soccer in two teams. One team belongs to the refugees and the other team is Greek. I am very happy. My only problem is the hijab. You know, I really don’t want to emphasize this a lot but I don’t care about it either. But, well, they made fun of my hijab here when I went to school. So I came out of school. One is the hijab and the other thing was that I didn’t know their language. They fought with me and I no longer continued my studies.
Can you explain how life here makes you feel?
How do you feel living in Greece?
It is both bad and good. Well, I haven’t learned Greek yet. I very much like to go to school and study. Well, ummm, this is really a bad feeling and I am always thinking about it, about what will happen to my future. I mostly have a feeling of fear, fearing for my future. The good feeling is that I am a bit hopeful. That is all.
Would you ever imagine, in the past, to get into such a situation and be able to overcome and manage it?
Never … Well, my father is a very open-minded person and I have always learned to be strong and powerful from my father. He is truly … He always tells me that I am his best daughter and it always gives me energy. Even in the hardest days of my life, my father would tell me that this is going to end soon. Even the days when I was sleeping on the stones … I was thinking about those moments last week. The days when I was sleeping on the stones, my father would tell me, “Remember you will be sleeping on a soft bed next year under an air conditioner.” These things give me a feeling of being strong and I am satisfied with it, and I think about my life more and more and I am sure it is going to get much better than what it is now, so don’t worry.
Do you think you have learned something from the hardships that you have encountered? Do you feel anything positive in you? Do you think you have gained any ability after all those difficulties?
Yes, I think I am behaving more mature than my age and I have grown up in a way that the whole family is asking for my advice. And this gives me a feeling of being strong.
How did Covid-19 affect your daily life, your emotions, your feelings and your mind?
We were in quarantine for seven months. I would neither play soccer during that seven months nor would I do my studies since it was all online. I hate online classes so I didn’t participate. I was going crazy in a way that I wouldn’t think about anything except . . . I am not a person who goes and listens to the songs that make me feel depressed, but I started listening to such songs back then. I was even thinking that it might be better to commit suicide. I don’t know what was wrong with me during those seven months. It was very hard for me and I went to a psychologist since I had visited a psychologist previously in Iran. My health got better so I came back and restarted my daily habits.
Now I want to ask about the past part of your life. What made you leave your country? Can you explain it?
First of all, when I came from Afghanistan, I was three years old, I think. It was my father’s and my mother’s issue and I don’t know anything about that. I only know that they had problems there. There was war. My father says that he had a lot of hardships the time he moved to Iran. But, when we left Iran to come to Europe, the main goal was my sister, Zeinab, who is 12 years old and she is mentally paralyzed. And the doctors in Iran gave up on her and gave us a paper stating that she cannot be treated there so you have to go abroad. We went and searched all of the organizations to take us to a better country but there were none. So, my father decided to immigrate. This was our only goal and we dedicated our whole life for this. My older sister remained in Iran just for my sister to get better. This was our main goal.
Is your older sister living alone now?
My older sister is with her husband and her two children.
What was your feeling at that time when you were supposed to leave the country where you had grown up because of your sister?
Well, Iran was the country with which we share the same language. One case is that I both hate and love Iran. It has both good and bad points. The bad point was that I didn’t have a proper identification card as an Afghan. I didn’t even have a SIM card which was very necessary, a SIM card that I could get with my own name and there were a thousand more problems. And I would become very happy if my sister could get healthy because we all love her very much. And I could see it is really hard, every day . . . that sister of mine is very intelligent. Every day, she would hit her legs and talk to them. This would ruin my parents’ mental status, seeing their child that way. It was very hard for them to see this situation. I was happy and I was only thinking about my sister getting better.
How was your trip to Europe? Can you tell us about the experiences you had and the things that happened to you along the way?
When I am to think about the past, I mostly think about the moment that we were getting off the ship. It was very hard for me, very hard and very difficult. My mom was pregnant, she was pregnant with twins and both of them were boys. My parents always had the dream to have a son. I had a brother but my father always loved to have another one as well. We were four sisters. My mother was pregnant and we got to know that it was twins when we were in Turkey, so we became very excited. But when we came and were about to arrive, our ship turned over. My younger sister, Zeinab, fell into the sea. Everyone else had come down but my sister and my mother. Then, my mother fell off onto a rock. She hit the rock, one of the twin boys died and the other one lived. So, when I think about the past and people ask me what are you going to do, I always remember that scene. And I become very sad because of what has happened to my mother. A similar thing had happened to her when she was immigrating from Afghanistan to Iran. She was pregnant that time and that one was also a boy but she lost that one too. I mostly think about how much hardship my parents have experienced because of me, my sisters and to create happiness for us in our life and put a smile on our faces.
What was your feeling at that time when all these things happened to you?
I cried when we arrived. Both my father and I cried. I thanked God that very moment. I was very happy that we had arrived. There was a big storm the night that we arrived and I was thinking that we might either die or arrive. It was very hard for me to believe that I am finally here. I would think we were in our own home just one month ago and we were living our life. So, why did we come here? I became angry all of a sudden and blamed my father telling him that you brought us here. Then, my father talked to me and said no, it is not like this, it will pass soon. I had a terrible feeling. I was getting crazy, I think. It was a terrible feeling.
Do you still think about those incidents?
Yes. I always think about them and I can never forget them.
What makes you think about those memories again?
When I go somewhere, for example, when I am happy, I suddenly flash back to those memories, thinking about those hard days, those hard moments in the past. Then, I thank God that those days are over. Or when a good thing happens for my future now. I think about those moments and I thank God again. I thank God and say I have finally arrived here safe and sound.
How do you feel when you remember those memories?
I feel bad. It is a very bad feeling.
How did the situation that you faced affect you, your morale and your life?
Well, I cried every day. From the time that, for example, we came from Iran to Turkey, it was all about crying and difficulties. It was too much pain to tolerate. It was very hard for me to tolerate. I would see my father carrying my sister on his shoulders. For example, my sister was 27 kilos and when we came, we had nothing to carry my sister with, so it was hard for me to see my father doing that. My father himself has health problems and we knew that my mother was pregnant so we couldn’t do anything. My older sister could also not carry her. So, my father was our only hope and I would start crying seeing those scenes. It was very hard for me to see my family having hard times.
Would you ever imagine being in such a situation and being able to manage it?
No, never. Never.
How did you cope with it? What did you do to forget all those bitter and bad memories or make them fade away?
Ummm, as I said before, during the seven months of quarantine when I had no activities, I would think about those memories more and I was about to become crazy. But when you become active and keep yourself busy with the daily activities and all those things, you forget those memories and rarely think about them. This is my opinion.
Could you find any place to help and support you?
No. Unfortunately, there is only one place and that is a newspaper where I write for. It is only writing essays, nothing more.
Is the newspaper you are talking about for the refugees?
Yes, it is for refugees.
What was your dream for your future before all these things happened, before the doctors gave up on your sister and you were forced to leave your home? Start with the sentence, “My dream was …”.
Ummm, my dream was, well, to become a soccer player. I always had this dream in my life to be a girl who wears her hijab and plays soccer. And this has always been my dream since I was about nine years old. My second dream was to become a neurosurgeon and treat my sister. I mean, to make her healthy. Because the doctors told us that we need a big amount of money to treat my sister there. My father said that he will prepare that money but the doctor who wanted to operate on my sister was gone. From that time onward, my biggest dream was to become a doctor, complete my studies soon and treat my sister. So, I totally forgot about soccer. This was always my dream and now that I think about it, I still want to study neurology so that my sister can get better soon.
What was your dream when you left your home and started your trip?
My goal was to … I was thinking that I can go and continue my soccer once I reach Europe, where there is freedom. I can study there. But again, the circle turns around and ends up on my sister. I always think about making my sister’s dreams come true before reaching my own dreams and her dream is to be able to walk. I have always seen and felt it.
Can you explain what strengths you had before you left your home?
My strength was that I was studying very hard. I was always busy reading books and since we were Afghan, at school . . . I am very happy that I was the first Afghan girl who could get good grades and get enrolled in a good school by the government of Iran. And this would give me a very good feeling. I was very devoted. I was a girl with a full hijab and not a single hair of mine was visible. And it was the most positive thing about me and I very much believed in them. I was a very good girl back then and I think I am a very bad girl now.
Why do you think you are a bad girl now?
Well, I think I better have my own freedoms a little bit. As I said, I think, like, I’ve gotten older. I no longer like to tell my parents where I want to go and what I want to do and such things.
Does it mean you like to have independence?
That is right, that is how it is. I want to have freedom although I am still underage.
But this is not a bad thing.
I think it is bad. My family is not one that wants to lock me away. They are in a way that, like …
To take care of you.
To take care of me. I think they are protecting me and I think they are doing the right thing because if they let me free, I will do a lot of things (laughing) and I am really thankful to them.
It means you accept that …?
I accept it.
The things that have happened to you are really hard but do you think these hardships have made you grow and, I don’t know, do you think they have had positive points for you?
Yes, very much. And the positive point for me is that when my parents and my sister face any problem, they come to me and ask for my opinion. I had gone to a psychologist because of my problems previously and since I think like an adult, they ask me for help and I think this is really good.
That they approve of you?
They very much approve of me.
What dreams and hopes do you have for your future, now that you are here?
Start with the sentence, “My dream is …”.
Again, my dream is to become an expert neurosurgeon. My sister’s condition is getting worse and worse every day. I would love to become a doctor, complete my studies and have my own life. Have a real house and live in a warm and friendly environment with my family. My dream is to smile every day. Then, my sister should get well. I don’t want anything big. I just want a small, beautiful and peaceful life.
Thank you very much for answering my questions. I am done with my questions. But, if you have anything to say and you think that it can help the European people to better understand the situation of the immigrants and refugees in Greece, you can add it.
OK. Ummm … Try to research and learn before you come. We came here without any research. We had read nothing about Europe or anything else. Without any plans, we decided to come to Europe all of a sudden. Please do some research before you come. You have to accept all of the hardships and do not nag and blame others telling them that they made you come here, do not direct your finger at others. And …
I mean, what you said was totally true and thank you for reminding me of this. But, do you have anything to say to the Europeans so that they can better understand our situation in Greece?
Uhuh, OK, right. Please do not make fun of their hijab. They made fun of me at school very much. They wanted to take off this veil from my head which was a big humiliation for me. So I fought with them. Also, I was going to a Greek school but didn’t know the language so I asked them to explain it to me in English. But they shouted at me and said it is their country and city and class and told me to get out of here. They shouted at me this way. So, please do not do it. We are all equal. For example, I don’t want to say she is an Iranian and I don’t want to talk to her or that person is African. We are all equal. God has created all of the human beings equal, not one is superior or subordinate. I think they should not be racist and stop acting that way. That is all.