About Refugees, By Refugees

Mohamed Juwara

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Photo and interview by:




Mahmoud Jabbie

My dream was to become a footballer,” says Mohamed Juwara (18), thinking back to his childhood in the Gambia. He says he has “learned many things” during his journey across a multitude of countries to Greece, where today he is seeking asylum. He doesn’t like to talk about it, only that “it was really, really difficult,” and he was “totally scared.” He says the people journeyed with helped him a lot. “They give me hope.” While he says, “I’m blessed to be here,” there are also hard times. “I feel so bad. Like when I see people with their family, especially like moms, when I saw someone with their parents, oh my gosh, I feel so bad… I wish I could be that person being with their family.” Mohamed still loves football, but his focus is now his education: “My dream is – I see it; I want to finish my school, first of all, then go to university.” Then he wants to own a company. “I just want to follow my dreams to become a better person tomorrow.”

Trigger Warning:

full interview

Hello, guys, how are you?
I’m fine and you. 

I’m doing great. Who are you?
I’m Mohammed Juwara. 

Where are you from?
I’m from Gambia

Tell me something about yourself. Like your age.
I’m 18 years old. I came here last year, so, um September 7 I arrived in Greece. I was lucky and then I was happy to see myself in Greece. 

Thank you. On which date and we are through the road or by sea?
I came through sea from Izmir. 

Yes, which island ?
I arrive at Leros Seven of September 2019.

So how life in the island?
Life in the Island is difficult. It’s crazy somehow. But we know in this kind of system you don’t have a choice, so you just have to be strong. And fight with AIDS. So I decided to be patient and wait for the right time and face all those difficult time at the at the island. Because when I arrive, I don’t have anyone who can help me with the money, stuff like that, so I was lucky. The people I came with them, they helped me a lot. They make me forget about all the pain I’ve been through. And then they make me feel comfortable. They give me hope. They advise me. So until the right time come I left there to Athens and thank God I’m here. I’m going to school. I started going to school before the lockdown, but I thank God I came here before the lockdown. So I was like, I think like I just imagined like when this if this lockdown made me and the island so like without anyone with me there who can help me because the people I was with them, they all live and come in at the end. So I was alone there. So I was thinking like if this lockdown made me in the island, I think how will I survive without those people around me? What I’m not gonna make it easy. I skip all those had time to arrive here in peace. I’m blessed.

So how that makes you feel?
It makes me feel more confident. It makes me feel like being strong to focus on what is coming next, because I imagine also I left people there, people that I was with them every day and night. So they face that difficult moment. I become like this locked down, so. I think. I will make it and then. I just. After passion and focus, I know. 

What kind of house do you live in?
Before you and transforming from the island to here, I was on the edge, got to take care of myself. So they were taking care of me and they needed, like, anything I need. They take all the responsibility until I became 18 years. So now they give me an apartment. So now I’m living with adults. So I‘m an adult now already. So I have to stand by my own. So that’s the place I am right now. 

And how can you describe the conditions there?
The condition there is ..It’s not bad because I came there just one. Well, let me say one week or two week, sorry two weeks or two weeks there. I don’t have any problem. They do the things I do my things. When we meet each other, we chat. We spend nice time together. So I live there. I don’t go. 

So who do you live with in your apartment?
My apartment. I live with people from Ghana, Sierra Leone and Bangladesh. So we are four, three, sorry three, four, four nationality in that house. We are from different countries, different cultures. But I don’t think that would make a difference for us to live like that would make a difference in our living in that house. We always try to understand each other, to help each other, to eat each other food. That is the most important thing. I cook my food, my food. You cook your food I will eat your food. I don’t think that’s normal. When we are living together, we should be more closer than that. So we try each other food. We help you give advice even to clean the house. We we make it time timetable, today you should clean, tomorrow another person. So that’s how we managing ourself. 

OK, that’s good. So how do you spend your time here?
My time here once I go to school. I… from now, I want to focus my education. I want to learn something important not to spend time on bed. So I go to school. But right now the school is closed, but I still have class where I go. So if I don’t have class any day, I study. Sometime I visit my friends sometime. I play music. I like music. I stay at home. I play music and play my phone games.

Should you have a job now?
No, I don’t have a job. 

So what are some of the things that brings you joy?
Some of the things that bring me joy is that. Well, I listen to music, I feel happy or I watch comedians videos. It makes me happy, it makes me feel good or I watch football, I love football so much when I watch football, if my team is not losing I’m happy or I play a video game, I like video games so much. 

So how has life been since you arrive in Europe?
Life is being different, life here and life in Africa is far totally different. It’s like it’s a different system, different situation, different people, different conditions. Life here is cool. I like it, especially nothings here- living in your house, you alone, you don’t live it like you don’t live in crowded places. You you are in your own anything you want to anyway. You want to go. You have free mind. So. It’s good, I like. 

So what is the good side and the difficult side?
The good side is education here, education, if you want to learn, is really, really good because there’s people here, there are many organizations, if you are ready to learn, they are ready to help you. I like that because in my country, education is not free. You have to pay. So when I arrived here, I found that education is free in this country. So I was like, oh, my God, I’m not going to sleep. I have to focus. I have to learn like even more than five years. No problem. So I love that part is very, very good. The difficult part is to find a job, to find a job in this country. It’s difficult. It’s really difficult even to get the papers that allow you to apply for a job. It’s really, really crazy to get those papers, I want to try some, but I’m glad I got one, but it was really difficult. I spent 24 hours without sleeping, standing for the people. But God help me, I get it. That’s difficult. But to find a job in this country, that’s the most difficult part. 

How can you describe living here has made you feel?
Living here sometime, it’s make me feel. But sometime. Well, I think there are people behind me like there are people under me when I see it, when they meet people, that they are trying to like the opportunity that I have, the people that they are looking for that opportunity. So when I think about that, but I feel like I have to be grateful the thing I have even like the country. I mean, right now there are many people in this world they want to come to this place, but they don’t have a chance to talk to anybody in this country. So when I think about it, I said, I’m blessed to be here. 

OK, it’s good. How does being away from the rest of your family family home makes you feel? How does the feeling of not belonging, the stigma has impact in you like you describe that how like how has been away from the rest of your family family back home has made you feel?
Like how I feel. Yes. Yeah, I feel bad sometimes I feel so bad. Like when I see people with their family, especially like moms when I saw someone with their parents, oh my gosh, I feel so bad. Like I feel like I wish I could be that person being with their family in happiness like you, you will move with your parents, your mom, your dad. You move it to everything together, you smile. So when I’m living like that without no one. So I feel look all the time or sometimes I feel bad. I feel like I don’t know what am I going to have the opportunity. I don’t think it would be possible to have it this moment. 

Ok, how does the feeling of not belonging, discrimination and stigma impact you?  Like the feeling of not belonging discrimination and all those that, you know, may impact you. Can you to talk a little bit about that?
Not at all, I don’t want to get emotional.

We can pass that part.

OK, like, will you ever imagine that you will have been able to undo this situation?
I never I never think how I can handle this because number one when I start moving away from my country, I was very, very young. I was not thinking about this country, like out of here, like I’ve come here. It’s just that it comes my way. When I was moving, it was really, really difficult. I was thinking like I was totally discouraged, totally scared that I would make it, because when I look at myself, when I think what is like what is going on in the society, but I got to be strong.

That’s all I do.

So how have you been able to overcome or live with all these things?
What makes me to live with all this is the thing that I’ve been through before. So it makes me it it makes me like. It makes me feel uhmm, let’s pass this. 

So you don’t want to talk about that?
No, I don’t get emotional. 

Ok. What do you think that you develop all these skills to deal with all these challenges?
Do I what? 

What do you think you develop all these skills to deal with these challenges? Or do you think you always had those skills?
No, I don’t think I’m developed because I can see, I’ve seen many things that I will never forget in my life. And I got so many skills about it. But I don’t think I’m developed enough yet because I’m too young to develop…

How has the government now affected you in terms of your daily life, in your mood, your fee, fee, fee, then and will be.
Well, it affected me a lot. Sometimes I could not even have fun with people when I’m living with them, like they feel like this is a bad guy. You never want to trust me. Does he never smile to do that? So I was like, sometimes I feel like being alone not to talk to anyone or something. I don’t want to see anyone. I want to be alone, but let’s pass that.

Why you always want to be alone?
Why I just wanna be alone, it’s I feel like when I’m alone, I feel OK. I feel comfortable. When I meet people, I don’t feel comfortable in me, I feel like I’m not comfortable, so I just need to be alone. If I’m alone, I feel so.

Why you are not comfortable?
Because the things I have been through, because like someone who is behind you trying to go to your turn to do this, blah, blah to you. So you always want to like do all kinds of things to run away from the person they then to see the person either in your, in your in your like in your life. I mean, so when I’m used to that kind of situation, like someone, I, I see the person I have to when I see the person coming the place I am, I have to leave the place and go. So I used to those kind of things. So until I became like being alone, it’s better to be in public what to do with people. When I be with people, I don’t feel comfortable like in my mind. So I decided to be in a way that I feel comfortable with. 

So how that makes you feel?
It makes me feel bad, but I don’t have a choice before, but I’m trying to change, to live with people, be in public, I’m trying my best to undo that one. But before it was not easy for me to live with, like be with people like that because I don’t feel comfortable. So now I’m trying I’m doing my best to fight all those feelings, to fight, get them away from me, to be who I was before. 

Why did you leave your country?
Is a long story. It’s a long story. I don’t want to talk about it.

Can you describe it? What are….?
If I describe, I will get emotional and I don’t want to get emotional about.

OK, but how how did that makes you feel at this time?
It’s once, Number one, it’s teach me a lesson, it’s like a. It teach me a lot and then I got many skills about it. Sometimes I feel crazy sometimes. So. I don’t have choice just before the choice that I have that just brought me here. 

How was your journey to Europe? Is there any experience that was particular the the the call that you will tell us about?
What do you mean? 

Like your journey into Europe? Is there any experience that you want to tell us about?
I’m not here to experience yet. 

So how do you come here?
I manage from Gambia to country by country, country by country. 

From where to where?
From Gambia to Senegal, from Senegal, Mali. From Mali, I went to Niger. From Niger I went to Libya, from Libya I went to Egypt. From Egypt, became Turkey. From Turkey came Greece. 

So what are the experience you learned to go through through through this training?
I learn a lot of experience to this journey, a lot of experience.

Like how to uhm…. I don’t want to talk about that shit, man. Matter of experience, I’ve seen discrimination hold. Health is still a lot of things I got held up and now to that way, I came here, I went to hospital and did this kind, but they said I need plastic surgery. So there’s no like there’s no money in their organization which can sponsor me to do the surgery. And then it. It’s really, really disturbing me, it’s difficult to live with this kind of situation. So I do all my best. How can I get sponsor about plastic surgery still now nothing happened, so I’m still with those kind of crazy and probably I’m still so worried about it.

So how it makes you feel now?
It makes me feel bad because at night for me to have normal sleep is difficult for me to sleep because of this problem. It cannot allow me to sleep. So. 

Do you think about this event or give it a more often?

Is there some things in particular you think about often?

What is that?
When like at night when I’m sleeping, I get scared. Like the problem is on my nose, my nose like the bone inside is broken. Sometimes it’s very hard for me to breathe. So I feel like when I think like especially in summer, like my nose will block when it block. I think like, if I sleep like that and then couldn’t breathe, I open my mouth every night, I sleep in my mouth closed. So if I couldn’t get air, so that’s me. I’m done. I’m going. So it’s really, really stressful for me to sleep with that kind of things, but I don’t have choice, I have to fight for it, but I don’t have any help.

So what do you feel when you think about that?
When I think about that, I cry. I cry so many every day when I think about that I cry and maybe every single day at night. I think that when I play the bus, I don’t know if I’m safe with it and I am so under pression, even if the disorder is not done, I don’t think I’m safe. I’m surrounded by unsafe.

Could you ever imagine that you would have been able to handle all this situation?
So I don’t think, you know, when it happened to me day when they hit me, I feel like I would die. I don’t think I would like oh, even I will even survive to that moment. How do they treat me, how they tortured me. But afterwards, I found out that I’m not in normal. So that makes me feel bad. It’s so, so strange looking. 

So how are you able to. So and so. Yeah. So life or gets through it?
They look to make them seem like. It’s like I went to able to find medicine, which will help me to breathe, but still not in the main point is. So to so there’s no no one can help me with that, I have all the proof, all the papers with me from hospital were still to be destroyed for me to do the plastic surgery. Now, I don’t have it. 

OK, where do you find your strengths and supports when you was in back home?
I found strength and support in Senegal.

No. Like when you was in back home. What was your strength? Motivation?
I don’ t understand. 

What was your motivation, what push you to move on with life when you was in back home?
Oh, let me see uhmm football. 

Yeah, football. 

So what is your strength now?
No, I said it’s. I want to learn a job which like I could manage my own company in future, so that’s my plan.

OK, before the events that lead you to leave home OK, what was your dream?
My dream was to be to my dream was to become a footballer. 

Footballer. Yeah. That was my biggest dream in my life before.

Like when you we are leaving your home what what was your dream for the future?
That’s what I’m saying. My dream was to become a footballer. 

So what is your dream now?
Now my dream is I see it. I want to finish my school, first of all, then go to university. I am learning electrician, I am planning like my what is my biggest plan to work on my own, not to work for anyone when I say work on my own means to have my own company. I want to have my own company. I want people to work for me and want to work for people. Now, that’s my that is my biggest plan in the future. 

What you have been through seem really difficult. Do you feel like you have grown in any way as you know, as a result of the experience or as anything at all? Yeah po po po positive comes out of it?
The positive comes out of it. Yeah, I’ve come out of it because I have learned many things. I don’t think what happened before will happen again in my life. And then I’m sure that this is like this is the right time for me to plan something for my future. This is the right time to fight against my needs in the future. So I would I think I’ve learned a lot about this. So that’s why when I came here, the first thing I did is to register the school. I tell my social workers from now on, I want to focus going to school. I want to learn because what happened before, like I was in a community, I want to go to schol, but they don’t allow me to go to school in my tribe. I try it’s very difficult for them to leave their kids to learn. This is really difficult. So when I’m here, I find out that I can do whatever I want. So I decided to focus on the school. That’s my biggest. 

What are your hopes and dreams for the future now?
Look, a lot of hopes I got. First, I’m young, so they think, well, I’ve got to do now is to focus on education. Opportunity can come at any time. Changes can come at any time. I just want to follow my dreams to become a better person tomorrow.

We really appreciate you answering all of these questions, is there anything you would like to add that might help the people in Europe to have a better understanding of the life of the of the life of the refugees here.
Like I don’t understand… 

If anything, you would like to add. So the people in Europe will have a better understanding about the re… the refugees.
Yeah, What I can add. I think refugees coming here is not only about their lives here, it is about contribution in Europe, because all the refugees that are coming from different countries, different culture. So everybody have their own structure. I mean, so if people understand that and take all the refugees you example, like you France, like you find someone who can play football, you find someone who can play basketball or you find someone who have job skills. And then there are a lot of people in in this country, like a lot of refugees in this country, they have job skills. They have so many skills, but they don’t like they don’t have any opportunity. They don’t have any chance to use even to get a people to move to another country is really, really difficult. If it is a lot like what people think, they’re just they’re just just refugees, no they are not just refugees. They are the ones who. They have a mentality, a lot of skills that they want people to understand that the experience is like you cannot know that if you don’t like if you don’t go into them, if you don’t allow them, give them paper, employ them, let them, like, let them do like let them do what they want. Like, let them make their dream come true. If you don’t allow them all, like you have to do to allow refugees to help them, to give them an opportunity to see what changes they bring in their continent. And then I’m sure a hundred per cent if they employ refugees, they allow them. Even if you don’t give them work, give them the paper that can that can legalize them, make them like give them a chance to go forward. And so Europe will have people like them. They could never imagine they would have them in Europe and then to be a refugee. 

So thank you so much.
You’re welcome, sir. 

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.