About Refugees, By Refugees

Portrait of refugee Morteza with his hands folded across his chest against a graffiti wall

Morteza Heydari

Pictures taken in:



Photo and interview by:




Zahra Gardi

“The society where I was living was killing my mindset, thoughts and my beliefs. On one hand…I did a good job by coming here and I am happy about it but on the other hand, I am missing my family,” says Morteza Heydari (24), who was born in Iran to Afghan parents. This meant having fewer rights, she says; not being Muslim in a Muslim society added to the discomfort. “They see me as a refugee in Iran and they see me as an Iranian in Afghanistan…That is why I cannot call anywhere as my own home.” So she made the difficult journey from Iran to Turkey before coming to Militini, Greece, where she has been seeking asylum for two years. Her dream? “My heart wants a farm where I can sit still and relax. I am tired of all this chaos,” she says with a laugh. But hope keeps her going. “Hope is a delusive thing that we make ourselves believe in so that we are able to keep going…For me, it has been the ‘hope’ to an extent thinking that I may have a better life someday compared to what I have today.”

Trigger Warning:

full interview

Hi. Can you please introduce yourself first, your name, your last name and where are you from? 
I am Morteza Heydari and … I am 24 years old and I am from Afghanistan but I was born in Iran.

Can you please explain where do you live now and who do you live with? 
I live in Mitilini with seven or eight of my friends. We are in one house living together.

I mean are you here alone or with your family? 
Ah, no. I am alone.

And then, are you in the city or in Moria? 
Ahhh city, in the city.

Are you happy with your situation? Can you please talk about it a little bit? Can you please tell us about your living conditions? 
My living condition, well, it has been two years since I have been on the island. Also, we don’t have any privacy. Also, we don’t know anything about our future. We live in a limbo situation and it is not clear what will happen and how long it will take, one year, two years, or maybe three years. Also, well … it is somewhat like hell. We don’t know about anything … your future is unclear, you cannot make a long-term plan … and …

Can you please tell us how you mostly spend your time here? For example, for someone who is a foreigner and has not seen this situation, can you please explain how you spend your days and nights here? 
Well, I work as a volunteer with a medical organization. For example, I wake up at seven or eight a.m. in the morning, eat something as a breakfast like tea or something and leave for my work until six p.m. in the afternoon. At six o’clock in the afternoon I come back and sleep because I get very tired. I might eat dinner or not and then I will go to sleep so that I wake up the next morning and do the same thing again. This is how it works for me now.

It means, you said that you work with a medical organization, are you an employee there? 
Ah, I work as an interpreter. I am an interpreter.

Then, do you receive any payment for your work or not? 
It is mostly as a help.

You are a volunteer. 
Yes, because I am a volunteer and cannot work legally. Because we are not allowed to have any job legally. They provide us financial aid.

Why can’t you have a job legally? Is it because of documentation issues or what? 
Yes, because my documents are not completed yet and the legal procedures are not complete yet, that is why I cannot have a job. I don’t have the permission to have a job.

How is your immigration status now? Were you able to get an ID or could you do that? 
No, I am still waiting for my interview result.

Can you please tell us a little bit about your journey and the routes that you came? Why did you leave your country? 
Well, ah, in Iran, we would be seen as a refugee until the end of our lives and there was no chance …

Can you first tell us where you were born? 
Aha, I was born in Iran. I was born in Iran. But well, because my parents are Afghan I am known as an Afghan too. Iranian nationality works in a way that they consider blood relations rather than place of birth. That is why I would be known as a refugee till the end of my life there. That is why, well, there are less citizenship benefits there for you, you are less valued in the society, alsoyou are considered as second citizen in Iran because you don’t have the same rights as others and that is why, you either have to work till the end of your life because of the limitations that the Iran government have put for the refugees and one cannot make a lot of improvements due to a lot of limitations that are there for us. 

For example, how should I put it … you cannot have a proper job, you cannot buy a house, cannot buy a land, cannot buy a car … and you cannot study some of the educational fields at university. They tell you that you can only choose this major or that major but you cannot study some certain other majors at university and you have to go back to Afghanistan. This is while we have left Afghanistan because of war and Afghanistan has not been safe for us but this government is telling us to go back to Afghanistan and get a passport and visa and then come back. They put more limitations on our people. So, ahm, this was one of the reasons because I was not able to make any progress till the end of my life. The other reason was that I was not feeling comfortable in the society, the society was Muslim and I am not Muslim. 

But what happened when you chose immigration? Was your family making you take this decision or was it you? 
I myself wanted to come in 2015 but it did not happen due to financial reasons. Ah, and then I waited for four years or three years and I could save some money and I came from Iran to Turkey. But well, my family was indifferent. For example, they did not support me. It was not important to them if I wanted to go or not.

Did they agree with you to come or not? 
Hm, yes, yes, they agreed, they finally agreed.

But they could not support you? 
No, no, they could not.

Can you please tell me what dreams and goals you had when you were a child? What did you want to become in the future? 
(Laughs) Afghan kids either want to become a doctor or an engineer when they are young. My parents would always tell me to either become a doctor or an engineer. I would also think that I am supposed to be one of these but I wouldn’t think that the situation in the society becomes so bad that I wouldn’t be able to reach this dream. 

And when you were in Iran … if they were to give you citizen rights, you would be an Iranian but they have not given it to you now. When you were planning to leave Iran, which is also counted as your homeland in a way, how would you feel when you were leaving Iran? 
I was indifferent. Because …

Would you ever see Iran as your own country? 
No, no I can neither count Afghanistan as my country nor Iran because they do not see me as the original resident in either of those countries. They see me as a refugee in Iran and they see me as an Iranian in Afghanistan because I haven’t been in Afghanistan and in Iran, I have the Afghani label with me. And here, I am a refugee again. That is why, (laughs) I cannot call anywhere as my own home till the end of my life. 

Can you tell me what dreams and goals you had when you were leaving Iran? What did you hope for? 
I didn’t have any goal. Frankly speaking, I did not have any goal. I was just tired of Iran. 

It means you did not have any plans for your future by coming here? 
I just wanted to …

What did you want to do? 
I just wanted to escape. It was unbearable for me there. 

Can you talk about the hardships and difficulties that you encountered along the way? 
Well, there were a lot of difficulties. For example, it was my first time going on a trip by myself and I was far from my family for the first time so it was very hard for me. 

Ah, also, when you exit a country illegally, things are going to get four times harder than a normal trip. For example … you can no longer use the legal routes and you have to cross the border illegally and find a human smuggler. The human trafficking and illegal route is totally difficult. For example, you may get stuck in a house with 50 or 60 people for a month. And when I was going through the roads, I was shaking and I was afraid that the Iran police may shoot at us or the Turkey police may send us back to Iran and you need to accept whatever the human smuggler says because anyways, our lives are in his hands, we cannot do anything. And then we arrived in Turkey and we did not know the language, the currency was different and everything was different. It is as if you have entered a new world and you know nothing and you are like a child who is just born and came out of his mother’s womb and knows nothing. 

You are like a deaf and dumb person. 
Yes. Someone comes to you and talks to you but you cannot understand. It is hard to adapt yourself to society. And also, the situation in Turkey is a way that they do not support the immigrants as well. And then, we had to work. I was forced to work in a garden for about four to five months. And then, I don’t know why but they would discriminate between Turkish and Afghan workers or I don’t know how the condition was but the work was very hard and we had to work for 13 to 14 hours and also, our wages were not equal to others … ahhh … we were illegal … like Iran … worse than Iran. We could at least speak Farsi in Iran but we could not speak Farsi in Turkey and we had to learn the Turkish language.

Then … I was somewhere where there was a building close to the farm lands and the building had three storeys. Then … at the beginning when we started our work, there were around 150 labor workers there in that building and we would go to work every morning. Our employer would give us food. They would give us dinner some times and would not give it some other times. So we would come back and go to sleep and we would repeat it again for four months until I traveled towards Greece.

Can you tell me which part was the hardest during your trip? Which one was the most difficult?
Hmm, Turkey. It was very hard for me. It was very hard for me when I was working.

How was crossing the sea? Most of the refugees I have asked this question have stated that passing the mountains and crossing the sea to get to Europe have been the hardest parts. Which part was the most difficult for you? 
These two were not the hardest for me, to tell you the truth. Because when I was trying to go to Turkey I had to run. They would tell us to run and I ran and reached my destination. On the sea, I was not the captain but I was the passenger and I did not have any authority during the trip. Well, it was 50-50. I would either cross it or wouldn’t be able to cross it and I had no control over it. The hardest part for me was living in Turkey because it was truly difficult for me. I could not go to the doctor whenever I would get sick. Then … I was sick for three months and I had to work. Ah, and then …

When you were in Turkey, did you not plan to get residency? 
No, it was not possible because the UN was closed at the time we went there and also they had stated that they do not want more refugees.

We are collecting these stories for the people who have not seen and experienced the immigration journey, what they do and how they do. Can you tell us about some of the memories that you have from this journey? Which one was the hardest for you? Can you tell us about those memories so that they can picture what the refugees experienced? 
It means you want me to talk about my bad memories?

Well, bad or good, it can be both. 
Ah well, bad memory …

Or maybe let me tell you this way. Have you experienced when we want to put our heads on the pillow at night … They remember their bad memories. 
Yes, that bad memory always comes to mind and reminds them of that moment.

What is your memory of this kind? 
There are one or two. One is when you ride the car or the thing that takes you out of your living area, when you look back, you know that you might not be able to see such a thing in the future five or 10 years or maybe forever. Then, ah, this is hard. When you want to get apart from the place where you have grown up and you don’t know when will you return either, and you also don’t know what is going to happen during the trip that you have taken, when you look back and find your family is standing there looking at you going, that is the hardest moment. 

So this is what comes to your mind repeatedly? 
Yes, yes, to an extent.

How do you feel when you review that moment with yourself? 
I do not regret it. I at least know that I do not regret. 

Any depression or sense of sadness or is it hard to let go of the things you liked? Have these feelings impacted you negatively? 
This is a strange feeling because you love your family on one hand, OK? And you want to be with them, but on the other hand, you cannot endure that atmosphere. Ah, and then, when you think of your family, you get sad and upset and I can no longer see my brother and mother, I cannot see my relatives. And on the other hand, I can see that the society where I was living could not accept me. The society where I was living was killing my mindset, thoughts and my beliefs. On one hand, I say I did a good job by coming here and I am happy about it but on the other hand, I am missing my family. That is why, I am saying that I do not regret it.

What have you thought about Europe when you decided to come here? Did you find it the way you thought about it? 
No, no, not at all.

Can you explain what you think about it? 
I was thinking that the least possible thing that we can receive in Europe is equality. But well, I have not seen anything by the name of equality during the two years I have spent on the island in Europe. I have neither seen anything positive from the people nor from the government. Here as well, they look at us as refugees and … what can I say … oh god …

A burden. 
Someone who is a burden, yes, that is how they look at us. 

And can you tell me if there has been anything that you have learned from this trip or has it taken anything from you? Has it added or deducted anything to your personality? 
It has both added and deducted.

Can you please explain what has it taken from you? 
Well, for example, it gives us experience. Travel gives us experience and we gain the experience. It is said that you know people better when you travel with them and one can learn more.

But on the other hand, the things that you lose are that your emotions decrease and you tend to act more thoughtfully and you cannot act emotionally. But well, when you are with your family, you mostly act friendly and emotionally. But while on a trip, you might need to cheat on someone and you might need to be forced and decide to steal something, be arrogant and all other things that benefit you. These things make you feel less of a human but to create a better condition for yourself. But, well, … you gain experience in one hand and meet more people, visit more places, see more thoughts and mindsets, you can become more open and experienced. (Laughs)

What made you stay alive in those difficult situations? What kept you strong and on your feet so that you can continue your journey and achieve your goal? Was there anyone supporting you? Or for example … what made you stay strong? What was it? 
No, no one. Ah … hope. Ah, it might seem like something … it is a strange thing. Because hope is a delusive thing that we make ourselves believe in so that we are able to keep going. We might never get it but, well, human beings need something to help them continue. For me, it has been the “hope” to an extent thinking that I may have a better life someday compared to what I have today … ah … and I suffer.

And corona disease that we are currently struggling with, did it have any negative impact on your life, your personality and your emotions or not? 
Yeah, why not. The impact was huge at the beginning because we were in a camp. It could’ve had less impact on me if we were not in a camp. But, since we were in a camp and the camp was quarantined for four months, I could not do anything. I had to just stay in the camp, eat and sleep. This was a torture. I mean (laughs) ah … one gets depressed. Suppose you have no plan and no programs for four months and you have no information about the disease and you don’t know when it will end …

I think its impact was very big on refugees because the immigration process was stopped. 
Yes, the immigration process was stopped for a while. It was definitely nonsense. It was nonsense.

Now I am done with my questions. If you have anything to say and share with the … Now, the people who read and listen to our conversation are the people who do not know about immigration and have not experienced it. What do you want to say to the people of your age in Europe or around the world? Your audience can be first the people in Europe and second those young people who have not immigrated yet. I want you to take this opportunity and make them hear what you want to tell them. 
If I want to talk to the refugees first, I want to tell them to not choose the illegal immigration pathway. Because one of the reasons can be that it is like gambling, you may reach your destination or you may not. You are gambling your future.

Then … if it is possible, they better immigrate legally. But if it is not possible, well, I don’t know what to say.

Ah, then, if I want to talk to a European person, well, immigration is something that they cannot prevent. It has been proved throughout history that immigration is something that happens. For example, at some point, people immigrate from Syria, at some other point, people immigrate from Afghanistan. To go back in time, people have immigrated from Europe to America. For example, people have gone to America from Norway. Well, it is not something preventable. Now most of the people come from Africa and the Middle East. Maybe in the next hundred years, people might migrate from Europe to somewhere else. Keeping people in cages like hens, is not the solution. Then … I don’t know. The solution is complicated and I am not a politician to know about it. But, the fact that they imprison people and keep them in camps for several years … and then, … when they do not have any solutions for it either, is totally nonsense, null and funny.

Suppose if someone approaches you now, I don’t know, it is like one over 1000, and tell you that he wants to fulfill any wishes that you have, which goals and dreams you wish to be fulfilled?
Hmm, small, big, anything?

It can be anything. 
It is hard.

Suppose someone tells you that they want to fulfill one of your wishes. 
Ah … I don’t know, I swear to god.

Or for example, do you want money, work …? 
I don’t want money, neither do I want work …

Or you want to get residency in a country, maybe an occupation, anything. Generally, what is your wish? 
My heart wants a farm where I can sit still and relax. I am tired of all this chaos. (Laughs)

You can get a farm if you have residency. 
It cannot be … Well, having the residency is none of my business now, I just want the farm where I can have peace of mind. (Laughs)

Well, is there anything else that I have not asked you but you want others to hear about or you would like to add to your interview? 

You can take this opportunity and say it. 
One thing that I want to say is to not judge people with their physical appearance. That is all. 

Is this something that you have learned during your trip or … 
I know it is not related but as you said that I can say anything that I want and yes, this is something that I have learned. Do not judge people by their appearance. This is something interesting and something that I have learned throughout my journey. Yes.

Thank you and thanks for allocating your time and thank you. 
You are welcome. (Laughs)

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.