About Refugees, By Refugees

Portrait of refugee Melika wearing a mask\

Melika Hosseini

Pictures taken in:



Photo and interview by:




Zahra Mojahed

“I was just saying that I am a woman, I am alone, I cannot do anything,” says Melika Hosseini, 33. “But when I came and crossed this hard trip to reach here, I found out that no, I am really strong.” The Afghan single mother of two fled her birth country, Iran, for her family’s safety. En route to Greece, she fell into the sea and nearly drowned. The memories still make her nervous, but she worries visiting a psychologist would make it seem she can’t take care of her kids. “I don’t even think anyone here can heal my problems,” she says. “But… when I gather all these hardships, I feel like they make me stronger and bolder.” Today she finds calm in teaching: during quarantine, she started conducting Farsi, English and math classes to kids and adults in the camp she lives in. “My dream was to become free,” she says, reflecting on life in Iran. “I had the dream that one day my children and I could walk freely, go everywhere free, and go to picnics without anyone making trouble for us.”

Trigger Warning:

full interview

Please introduce yourself.
I am Melika Hosseini and I am a teacher for third grade Farsi and mathematics and also I am a teacher for English beginner class for adults. I teach in group.

Do you teach voluntarily?
Yes, I teach voluntarily (for free).

Where do you live now and in which type of house do you live?
In this camp.

You are in camp?
Yes, we are in camp.
… we are in a type of house that is shared. It means, two families live in one suit. Yes.

Who do you live with?
I live with another family of five.

And you are with … ?
I live with my two kids. I have one daughter and one son. And in the house that we … As I told you before, in each suit, two families live. There is also a family of five that live together with us.

How are its conditions? How is your life condition?
Well, the living conditions; it is a camp.

Isn’t there any problem living with a family of five people?
Well yes, of course. There are really a lot of problems. They are a family of five people, very crowded, very noisy, and unclean. On the other hand, we are a family of three people who are quiet and we like to be calm and have our surroundings clean and organized, but it never happens. There is no privacy. It means, it is the reality, we don’t even have a little privacy here. And because the kitchen is shared, the toilet and the bath are shared, and we only have some bedrooms. I mean every family has some bedrooms. One has only one bedroom that … actually … for example, others can easily enter it and the neighboring family can easily open it and come inside.

The doors don’t get locked?
The doors do get locked but it is not practical to keep it locked all the time. We only lock it during the night when we want to go to sleep. But well, I am telling you that there is no privacy and if you want to have a quiet time and be with yourself for a few minutes, no, it can’t be. Such a thing does not exist here.

What makes you enjoy your life or be happy?
Ahh at the beginning when I had come here and two months after that, the weather was very cold and I didn’t know anyone, so it was very hard. And after that we got quarantined. Then I got introduced to Mr. and Mrs. Ghulami. He came and suggested that we start a school for the children because … well, other schools were closed because of quarantine and the children had nothing to do, especially our own children. Both children and adults. That is why we started a school and organized classes to keep both the children and adults busy. For children, we have classes like mathematics and Farsi which is their native language. We have got English classes. For adults, we have German, Greek and English classes. And for the adults who do not know their own mother language, we have Farsi classes like literacy courses.

How has your life been from the time you have come to Europe? What positive points and what negative points did it have? Can you explain it?
The only good point that can be called a positive point, and since I was forced to come here and escaped, the good thing was that I was no more available for the person whom I had escaped from. It was the good point. And also, it seems that my children and I had a little more freedom.

Can you explain how living here in Europe makes you feel? How do you feel from the time you have come here?
Well from the time I have come here and to tell the truth, when we first came, we thought of Europe as the promised land, in our imagination. It means, we had no other idea about it or what was going on. We didn’t know about the camps, we didn’t even know about living on the islands, but when we came to the island and saw the situation, I was totally shocked. Then I thought to myself how am I supposed to live in such a situation with two kids? It was very hard for me. It was very hard for me during the few months that I lived on the island. Then we came here and it is a bit better and we got better facilities. Just … only … the situation that I have here, I can say that it makes me stronger. It means, I have struggled with hardships so much and have become stronger, better, and I can better fight the problems, my self-confidence has increased a little bit, and that is it, I have become bolder.

Did you ever think you would be in such a situation and be able to control it? And to overcome your problems?
When one is literally in that situation, they automatically find the way.

So you had not thought about it before?
No, I had not thought about it before. It means, I didn’t even know about the living conditions here and how it is. I even didn’t know how the living conditions here in the camp would be, before I came here or get acceptance or become an immigrant. I had never thought that it might have such a situation. Then, when I came and saw everything, I had no idea, because I was trapped into this situation, so automatically, I would find the way and automatically would solve the problems.

Do you think the problems and challenges that you encountered made you improve your skills, gain more strengths?
Yes. I found this belief in myself that I am strong. I mean I didn’t think about myself this way before. I was just saying that I am a woman, I am alone, I cannot do anything and stuff like this. But when I came and crossed this hard trip to reach here, I found out that no, I am really strong and we can overcome the difficulties.

How has Covid-19 affected your life and your emotions?
Well, that was very hard. Because when it was quarantined the first time, I mean … my children were even afraid to open the door. They were thinking that if they open the door, Covid-19 is already standing at the back of the door and it will immediately enter and catch them. They were thinking about it and they were horrified. They didn’t even open the door. Sometimes when someone would come to the door and knock, they would shout to not open the door. They were imagining it this way. Then, they would never go outside, would not open the window, keep the curtains shut, they were thinking this way. They would think that the virus might come from the air now. I mean, my children were very horrified and I myself would spend all day at home. It means, suppose, during the two months … one and a half months, we were imprisoned in our own room, in our own house. So, it very much affected our mental health. And very … besides the other problems that we had, this one was very impactful. We were like prisoners. A prisoner, from every aspect.

Now I want to ask about the past. What was the reason you left your country? What happened? Can you explain it?
I … was not born in my own country, I was born in Iran. Then eh … then when I grew up and had a child and decided to go and live in my own country, alone with my children. I went there but couldn’t stay longer than three months. I had no one in Afghanistan. I mean, I had a lot of difficulties, I don’t mean I had no one, I had, but well, they were people who mostly didn’t want me to be there rather than wanting me to stay there. That is why, I couldn’t go further than Herat. I lived in Herat for three months. I ate whatever I had and at last, I had to beg in the end. Then I was forced to go back. I mean, I borrowed money and found the money for smugglers and went back to Iran. I went back to Iran and struggled with a lot of difficulties in Iran. Then, life was hard there too. I would do whatever possible to make ends meet. It was not my own country and we were immigrants there too. Yes, we were immigrants, then, we had no acceptance there and I had no documents to send my children to school so they could get education. The same was for me, I could not even rent a house. Well, there were these problems. But no, it was not the main problem. I was forced to escape at night and come here for the sake of saving my children and myself.

What was your feeling at that time? The time this incident happened?
Well, my feeling was just to go.

Feeling of fear?
Yes. One was feeling afraid, ah, a worse feeling of fear, feeling of helplessness, and feeling to just go from here and that is it. I didn’t know where to go. I accidentally took this trip. I was just saying that I have to go from here and I was thinking I am not safe here and anything might happen to me and to my children at any moment here. That is why, one night that no one would know, I locked the door of my room and came here.

Can you explain your trip to Europe? How was it and what you experienced during your journey, what happened to you?
Uhm. Well I … with this … with one of the … my friends, better to call it a close relative who was living in the area that we were living, they had come here earlier. Then, I had gotten the contact number of the person who had taken them here. The night that I was forced to leave my home with my children and come here, I had that number. I called him and he sent a car and I came to the border. At the border, I had a backpack which was very heavy and I had to give one to my son. Then, there was a lot of walking in those deserts and the mountains. Then we would run in some areas but I can never run and I don’t know whether it is because of my lungs or my heart, I don’t know. So, it is very hard for me to run and I can’t run at all. I mean, when there is a bag on my back, I can’t run, otherwise, I might be able to run. It was very hard. But well, with all the hardships and difficulties we reach Turkey. For a long time, we were …

Let me check it, yes it is recording.
We stayed a long time in Turkey. And we were going to run out of money. It was finished and we had no money for the hotel or motel. I had to sleep in the parks for ten to twelve days, with my children, until we came here. We came here and inside the van, well, it is the smuggling way anyways. Suppose, there are 30 to 40 people in one small van, and they push us by force like sheep. There was not enough air, nowhere to sit, well it is very hard, especially when it is for many hours and we had to stay like this. After that there are long roads to walk until the sea.

After that they put us into a boat. Before that, they would say that it is a good boat and there will not be a lot of people and we will take you there comfortably and it is good and things like that. It was because they were trying to convince us to take this trip. But when you reach there, you will find a fragile, dilapidated boat that you are forced to ride on. Because you have no other option. We rode that boat and came and we were on the way for several hours. It was 9 o’clock during the night when I and my children rode that boat and we were in the sea until 1 o’clock in the morning and we still had not arrived. Until we were out of gas and the little gas that was there inside the machine was to keep the boat turned on so the waves don’t take it here and there and it won’t get lost. The one who was driving that boat, had kept that little gas. We did not have that much gas to move forward, we only had that much gas to keep the boat turned on, the boat’s machine.

Everyone was shouting so there might be another boat to come and save us. Until we made a lot of noise and they called the guard in Greece and they came and found us. They came and found us and then since everyone was horrified, they all attacked that Greek boat to save themselves. I was sea sick and my daughter was also sea sick and had fainted and we were not conscious. Then, when everyone ran towards another boat, we had fallen under their feet at that time. Because we were sea sick and could not keep ourselves stable. Then with all the difficulties, we collected ourselves and I first sent my daughter and my son because the Greek police were saying to save the children first, then women and after that men should come. But no one was listening and everyone was trying to save themselves. But with all the difficulties, they saved children first and then women were going one by one but it was very crowded and it was not possible.

Until they sent me but I was so sick that I tried to collect all my strength to walk over that string ladder. When I got that string and took one’s hand whom I don’t know either it was one of the police or one of the immigrants, I don’t know how, when I tried to pull over the ladder it broke and the one who had taken my hand could not bear my weight and we fell down. And because I had no safety jacket, I fell down in the water between the survival boat and the boat that we were in. I fell down the water and drowned in it. I mean, at that moment, it was very hard. I was thinking that now … [sigh]

You can stop it if you want.
I am done, I can’t even cry, it comes but I can’t. Then at that moment, I was thinking if I die, what is going to happen to my children? Hmm … it means; I have taken them this long way but they will become orphans now. Who will take care of them, what will happen to them and such thoughts.

But fortunately, there were some men who were trying to ride the other boat, put their hands in the water and tried to find me. Then they pulled me up and I tried my best to go because there was a storm and there were a lot of waves, it made the boat and the ship go far from each other and then would come and hit each other. Then, the time they were pulling me up, these boats were hitting each other. I collected all my strength and put my foot on the coastal ship and threw myself in the boat. I threw myself in the boat and one of the guards from Greek ship came and helped me and I went up. I hardly went up those stairs and threw myself in that coastal boat. It was very hard and my dress was all wet. Then we went there and for one and half hours there was a lot of wind and we went by that boat until we reached Samos Island. We had circled around ourselves. Then, since there was a lot of wind, our clothes got dried on our bodies and we caught cold.

Nothing else, with a lot of difficulties we reached that island and with that situation in that island, we lived there for six months in that island with that situation. There were classes on that island to learn different languages or entertainment places but I couldn’t leave my children alone for a single moment. Because the situation on that island is not stable at all. There is always fighting, argument, and people are beating each other, so it is not possible to leave our children alone. I was always looking for my children to see where they go so they don’t get lost. Until we fortunately left there and came here and it is a bit better here.

What was your feeling at that time? Didn’t you have any other feeling except being afraid?
Well, I was terribly afraid and worried and unfortunately, it has caused me to become very nervous now. It means, the only time when I am calm and far from these things, I either go to these classes or teach students which is very calming for me, or I myself go to a class to learn something. This is a type of painkiller for me and keeps me far from my problems and all of these things. I feel strong. But when I get alone for a minute in the house, I mean right now that I am talking, all the veins in my neck and shoulder are contracting. I mean, when I go back home, I have to take a pill or something. It has really affected my nerves and until the last day of my life, these impacts might remain with me, I don’t know.

When you remember those hardships and difficulties, what will be your feeling at that moment?
Well, it is a very tough feeling. Hmmm hard. Sometimes when I talk to myself, I say why should I experience all these things? But as far as I look for the guilty, everyone is guilty except myself. For example, the situation that I am in now, it is not the situation that I had chosen. For example, like I myself should’ve decided to come here. I have come here because I was forced to.

How have the difficulties and hardships that you have encountered, affected your life and yourself? How has it affected you and your life?
Well, these problems, as I told you, have made me very anxious all the time, in the first place. I have become terribly nervous. But I haven’t visited any neurologist or a psychologist yet. I haven’t visited them here because people say that if a father or a mother has got any mental problems, they might take their children from them. For example, they say they are not capable of taking care of their children. That is why, I haven’t gone anywhere yet. And I don’t even think anyone here can heal my problems. Then, but well, when I gather all these hardships, I feel like they make me stronger and bolder. That’s it.

Would you ever think to be able to tolerate this situation that you have faced?
No, never before. I mean before, if such a thing would happen to others or I would hear such things have happened to others, then I would tell myself “Oh! How have they tolerated it and how strong they are, how can they do it?” But now that I am having such a condition, I say no, people are very flexible and they can tolerate.

How could you tolerate all these? What made you or what technique did you use to forget about your bitter memories or cope with it?
The only painkiller that I have is my hope for the future, my hope for God’s blessings. I tell myself that yes, all the hardships will pass. For example, according to that poem which says “This will also fade away”, it is the same. I tell myself these problems are not supposed to continue and these problems are not supposed to be there till the end. They are supposed to come to an end one day and I see a bright future for my children first and then for myself.

Before you decided to leave your home, I mean you were forced to leave your home, what was your dream for your future? Start with this sentence “My dream was …”.
Well, before I talk about my dream, I had no dream in those moments. During the time when I was in Iran, my only dream was to stay alive, that is all. To find something to eat and a shelter to sleep in, for myself and my children, that is all. I mean I had no other dreams. But now, I have got dreams. I have got dreams for myself and for my children now.

When you left your home and were forced to leave it and start this journey, what was your dream at that time? For the future?
Hmmmm … that time, my dream was to become free. To be liberated and become free from any trouble-maker and everything and everyone who has made me and my children not live comfortably. I had the dream that one day my children and I could walk freely, go everywhere free, and go to picnics without anyone making trouble for us.

Before you left your home and your country, what strengths and skills did you have and felt in yourself?
Well, I only have a diploma in natural sciences from Iran. And I was a teacher for many years in self-autonomous schools in Iran. I was the director for one year. I have no other skills.

So it shows that you were a hard-working person.
Yes, it might be a part of my personality.

Do you still have it? Are you still the same as before?
Yes, indeed and I have got more of it.

The things that you mentioned are really terrifying, saddening and very hard. Do you think these hardships have made you grow? Have they made you grow positive points in yourself?
Well, these hardships, hmmm … yes, as I said, it has just made me stronger. And when … I don’t know that I have encountered a lot of problems, but when I sit and hear about other people’s hardships, I find out that my problems and difficulties are not that big. And this makes me become more hopeful about life and about the future and feel myself stronger. And especially, I have got more confidence and it has further increased.

What is your dream and hope now, for your future? Start with “My dream is …”.
My dream is … the most important one is to continue my education. I mean this dream of mine, I had this dream from my childhood until now to be able to enter university one day and finish university. And the major that I have studied at the university, will be able to practically use the skills that I have learned at university. Be able to work with that and have an earning. This is the most important dream for myself. And one thing that is more important than my own dream, is for my children. So that my children can have a peaceful life in the first place. And then, they can have a better education and be able to easily continue their education and be able to enter a university and have a comfortable life with no concerns.

Thank you very much for answering our questions. And, if you have anything to add at the end to help people in Europe to better understand the lives and situations of immigrants here, if you have anything to share?
Well, as long as someone has not immigrated, they cannot understand other immigrants. Neither the refugees, nor their problems. And one thing that can be done is to take people out of these camps. This is good both for the refugees and they also can better know and understand the immigrants. Immigrants are not bad people to be imprisoned inside the camps. They just need to live somewhere better; that is all.

Thank you very much.
You’re 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.