About Refugees, By Refugees

Portrait of refugee Mostafa with his arms hugging his body

Mostafa Payvandi

Pictures taken in:



Photo and interview by:




Ali Lorestani

“I was actually dreaming of becoming a great artist,” recounts Mostafa Payvandi (34), who came to Sweden from Iran in search of religious and personal freedom. He left Iran after being introduced to Christianity by friends due to the hardships of being a religious minority in Iran: “Most of the time there are severe difficulties culturally, socially, and legally. So, the situation changed in a way that I was forced to get out of the country.”In Europe, he has face “cultural shocks of experiencing new things, like a child who is slowly discovering things,” but he has learnt that “it is very important to continue.” He draws strength from his religion: “There are times where there is a hand that keeps you stable. You don’t know where this hand came from but it worked for me this way.” Now, Mostafa says, “My dream is to integrate with the society that has accepted me as a host, as soon as possible.”

Trigger Warning:

full interview

We are moving to the main discussion. How do you live and in what type of house do you live?
I live in an apartment with my brother now.

Can you explain its conditions? For example, how many rooms does it have and those things?
It is an apartment with one bedroom. My brother is disabled and I live with him. I can give more detail if it is needed.

No, thank you. How do you spend your time here? Do you work?
I worked for six months last year. I have work experience working in a Seven Eleven store and with the start of the Corona pandemic, I am jobless now.

How do you spend your time now without that?
I play soccer four to five times a week with my Iranian and non-Iranian friends. In the morning, considering when I start my day, I try to learn a little bit of the Swedish language and I try to spend the rest of my time with photography because I am interested in photography and it is actually my main profession. I would love to reach the position that I want one day in this profession. If there is anything extra needed, I can add.

No, What makes you happy and joyful?
It was a good opportunity for me to think about it. Well, as someone who has immigrated from Iran and the middle east, one of the things that can make my mental condition a little better is to see myself trying to live and grow in a society where there is … kind of … a general concept about freedom or in other words, human rights, exists. It means, I for example, sometimes remember about my social life in Iran. For Example, in Iran, this is so simple, but I was mostly stressed about my outfit. I would think the outfit that I have and come out of the house with should not make someone angry, it should not violate the social norms and not cause a group of either legal or real people to have a reaction to it. While we are living in a society inside the “developed West”, in the north of Europe, well, we really don’t feel such pressures and such weight over us, as an immigrant in the first place. And this makes us to, get rid of a part of the emotional pressures that we had in the past. It means that everyone respects your choices firstly based on the laws and secondly based on the culture so one can practically learn to be like this. I don’t know if it was a bit long or short or was it OK.

So this issue actually makes you feel happy?
Yes, I think this is one of the first priorities that I think makes me fresh.

How has life been from the time you entered Europe, what has been good about it and what has been hard about it?
Considering that it has been two years and one month or two years and two months since I have entered Europe and can be somewhat counted as a new immigrant, two years is not a long time for immigration to slowly show its face to you. Because we know that immigration changes its methods each and every year and in other words sheds its skin, the migrant I mean. I lost the gist of the question.

It was about how has your life been…?
Aha, aha. The experience that I had is that during the first six months and the first year, we are mostly facing cultural shocks of experiencing new things, like a child who is slowly discovering things. So people live this way as well. We can have such a lifestyle and such a form of life as well. During that first year, the immigrant is facing these cultural and social shocks. Actually, many of them can be sweet and many of them can be bitter. But the most important one is the surprise. As I said, it is like the example of that child who faces a strange world. It is like you have entered a theme park, like a five years old child who has entered a theme park, you know, we are overwhelmed. It is interesting that it has stress and tension as well. Well, this was the positive part. There is a point to it and that is since you immigrate from a totally different culture, linguistically and culturally, because you know it is different, you come from the Middle East and enter Europe and it is different. For example, a French citizen who wants to enter Germany or plans to continue his/her life in Canada in northern America, we know that there is at least a little bit of cultural unity. But such a thing does not happen when you are coming from the Middle East because it is different culturally and linguistically. There are totally basic differences. That is why, a big part of it causes tensions because you are an immigrant from a specific region, with specific cultural and political stereotypes. Then you see that you have got a lot of issues starting from your name and even your existence in a society where we know that for example, Islamophobia is growing and you have come from a society that has Islamic labels. And someone who does not know you and you try to prove to them that you can be a decent citizen, these stereotypes are totally working as barriers. You have got an Islamic label before anything else, you have a Middle Eastern label before anything and there are some political judgments that are created by the media about you and you bring all of them with you. It means they are always there with you inside your backpack. It is with you and it has a label. You have got Islam’s label, you have got your modern political history that has been created by the big media and you have them inside your backpack and you come here. Well, some people are aware that they carry these things with them but some people are not aware of it and they slowly get to know that: “Aha! I have had them inside my backpack”. And it takes a lot of energy to work hard and fix this image.

Can you explain how living here makes you feel?
You mean generally?

Yes. How do you feel about living Sweden? How does it make you feel?
I think it is similar to the two previous questions. But, I will try to answer it this way. Since my mind works in a comparative manner, I mean my thinking method is that I always compare things. When I compare my current life with the one I had before immigration, I see more differences. Well, I am in a position now that I am slowly learning that Aha! There is a society where, although there are difficulties for the immigrants, as they say, “if you have a goal or a desire, it is not impossible to reach it”. It can be hard but it is not impossible. This is while in the society where I have grown up and where I was born, after sometime I figured out that it is practically impossible to reach my goals, dreams and desires. It means, for example, if you have a specific political view, if you have a specific religious view, if you have a different sexual identity, you are not supposed to be able to live with your own norms. But such a thing does not happen here and you know that you only need to find yourself. If you were able to find your true self, you can slowly start walking. I don’t know how directly the thing that I said is related to the question that we had.

The next question is, you said that you live with your brother, what are your feelings about being far from your family and your home in general? And also, if you do not feel being attached here, how has that issue affected you? Do you feel that you belong here or not? How do you feel?
I think my opinion about this question is very idiosyncratic, considering that I often talk about it with my friends and how much I miss home, how much I miss my country and such issues. Before I immigrated, I was thinking that I am a very nationalist person. Nationalist means that I am very Meli-gara (nationalist). I feel that my city is very important to me since I come from Mashhad, the community where I would live is important to me. I was somewhat thinking of it as a sacred and holy place. But, when I came out of the country and many other windows were open to me, the result was totally reversed in my mind. Now, that is why I said that my personal feelings are a bit idiosyncratic and maybe I have seen very few people who have had the same feelings as I had. Most of the things that I have learned and would count as my home in the past, I think I have lost them and I am far from them and every time that I remember what experiences I had in a society that taught me a form of living and the educational system that existed there, I regularly feel more distant from it every day. And I am not like my other friends who mostly talk about how much they miss the country where we come from, clearly Iran. But I do not have such a feeling and I feel that I get more distanced every day and frankly speaking, I have no positive feeling about it. But I also do not feel attached to this place. Well definitely we cannot easily feel attached to this place and think it is yours since it can be yours. It might happen in the future but during these two first years, no. Because we do not know the culture, we do not know the people and we are somewhere else, in a new place. Well, I think we can slowly build the attachment feeling over time. But now that we are talking and it has been two years since I have immigrated here, there is no feeling but I know we can make it. We can slowly create this feeling after ten years, after fifteen years, the feeling of being attached to the new land where you have immigrated.

Now that you don’t have this feeling, how has it affected you?
It is a bit scary at the beginning when you come here and see… It is a bit scary but, well, very easy … it works in a way for me that I do a quick math and the logical approach of my mind comes in and says it is natural, you have come to a place that has nothing in common with you and it takes time, only time. And I have talked to some very experienced immigrants and they have always told me to give it some time and some issues can be solved for you by the time passing. That is why. It definitely is fearful; it is not without fear.

Would you ever think about it before being able to overcome the difficulties of immigration and how could you cope with this issue? With the immigration issues and its hardships, how could you cope with it and live with it?
Definitely, I think none of the immigrants have a picture of what challenges he/she might encounter in the future and in your new immigration path. It is the same with me and I would never think such challenges might exist which are varied, big and different. This is for the first part of the question. The second part was …?

It was about how you could overcome it?
You slowly learn to continue and it is very important to continue. We also need to learn to continue and to continue and to continue and slowly everything will get better. Generally, the big part is the country where I have come and I know about it and I have seen that there have been people with the same condition as I am and they have also kept on and on and finally, there is no other choice than continuing.

So you think that these things have been created in you?
Yes, yes, definitely.

Or do you think you had some skills before?
No, no. It has been slowly created in me and I cannot claim that there has been something in me before. No. Frankly speaking, immigration has changed me a lot. It has changed me a lot.

You have already answered the question about how the Corona pandemic affected your life. The next questions and the last part are about your past. The first question is why did you leave your country? Can you explain what happened?
Yes. I think it was about one year or one and half years before my exit from the country when I was introduced to Christianity by the close friends that I had. I read about it a little bit. In Iran, I think all of us, since we are basically a religious society, know that worshipping God, for example, God’s existence is not strange to us culturally. That is why, many of the people have this issue in their minds most of the time. If there is a definition for God or not, in how many forms can he exist, I got introduced to Christianity through this path. And well, as we know, basically according to Iran’s law it is called religious minority. There are hardships for them to continue their lives. Most of the time there are severe difficulties culturally, socially, and legally. So, the situation changed in a way that I was forced to get out of the country.

What were your feelings that time? How did it affect you emotionally when you were forced to leave?
Is this question mostly about the time before I wanted to get out or …? In what time period does it ask?

It is about the time that you were leaving and the time that you left and before the time when you wanted to leave.
I was concerned. Yes, yes. Look, there is always a concern because you feel like you are a minority now and as I explained before, from the place that we basically come from and where we grew up, being a minority is a taboo. It means, you should not be a minority. If you are a minority, it will be hard, everything will be hard for you. It doesn’t matter where you are a minority. You should generally not be a minority and I think being a minority made me get out of the country.

What were your feelings about that? Were you concerned?
Yes, very much. Very much, and I was afraid very much because bad incidents could happen to me. This was a fear and I was very stressed. There was a lot of stress over anything else.

How was your trip to Europe? Is there anything special? Any incidents?
No, no. I flew to Sweden.

Ok, so we can reject this one. Do you still think about these issues of the time when you were in Iran and someone who had changed his religion and the hardships and difficulties that were there? When do you mostly think about them?
About the people who are currently in Iran and …?

No, about yourself.

The time when you were there and the difficulties that you had.
Do I think about them now or not?

Do you think about those problems, the difficulties and things that were …?
Yes, hundred percent. Yes, a part of them is repeating like irregular or non-alternating nightmares and one would always remember them as bad memories. Like why should I leave my own country for a simple reason, something that we should be able to obviously talk about. But one is forced to leave his country for some minorities and leave the home where you were born. Well, this is always with you. It is like an injury that you always have to carry with you. This injury wants to get healed sometimes, but your body might make a movement and this wound might open again. This injury is always with you and it shows itself most often. For example, I sometimes have some irregular nightmares. I face some anxiety and tension and … ahhhh … it is there. This wound will be there all the time.

Would you ever think to be able to overcome these problems and its difficulties from the time you came here or when you were in Iran?
No, it is very similar and there was a part like this …

This is about the past.
Again No. It means, maybe one of the experiences of living is that you don’t know how much capacity you have as a human and predict it. It means, there are always times that you think if you face such difficulties you might give up. But you figure out that it happened to you but you did not give up and continued.

How could you overcome it at that time? When you were in that condition, could you find a strategy for yourself? Please tell us about the bad memories that you have and, tell us where do you find your support and your strengths?
Yes, as you said, the question has many parts and let’s go through them part by part. About the strategy, Look, there is always a natural pulse that one has during the crisis and whenever you face challenges, there are signals inside you telling you to continue. As I said before, whether you want it or not, you keep going. I think it is something very biological that is ruling over nature. It means, even if you look at a tree, it behaves like us. It means, a tree also has winter but well, it is there until the spring comes and then summer and fall. I think this is a very biological order that we keep inside us from our childhood and keep continuing. But basically, me being close to Christ, actually, I feel, it helped me in some ways. By the way, when I do a comparison study between the Abrahamic religions, as we call it, there is a 70 percent or 75 percent unity among all of them, if we compare it this way and look at it with this logic. But at some points in some places, every human needs to have spirituality. I want to be flexible on this as a Christian or as someone who has newly become Christian. If I get my answer closer to Christianity approach, we all know that everyone makes a spiritual relationship during their lifetime. It is not very much important where your path is going to go but this spiritual relationship should be there, this immaterial relationship should be there.

It means you get your support from …?
Yes, I think for me, in one or two positions when things were working hard for me, it helped me as a Christian. You might also have experienced this in your life, there are times where there is a hand that keeps you stable. You don’t know where this hand came from but it worked for me this way.

What do you see as your strengths?
Now, I feel like I have become more flexible. I would not see this flexibility in my life before immigration, both mentally and in my personality. Now I think I have become more flexible and I think this is an important ability. I think if we all had this flexibility, … Yes, I think I have become more flexible, if we talk about it as a positive point.

Before these incidents happened and made you leave Iran and immigrate, what was your dream and please start your answer by saying “My dream was…” and tell us what was your dream before these incidents happened?
And did I know that I want to get out of Iran or…?

No before that. Before you were forced to leave Iran.
As someone who was living in Iran and had no immigration options and what was his dream? This is very generic.

I am saying it again, if you had any special dream that you would like to talk about. What was your dream? What was in your mind?
Before, for example, …

Please answer it this way “My dream was to…”.
My dream was to be able to I was actually dreaming of becoming a great artist. This might be something very similar to stories. But from the time that I remember when I was 15 or 16 years old and photography, art and cinema, it was very attractive for me thinking about will I be able to become a great artist one day? Well, there are different definitions for being a great artist. But if you talk about a story that has listeners and they hear you and be able to communicate with people. And this, Yes, if we consider it as a dream to become a great artist, it is a beautiful dream.

And what was your dream at the time that you were leaving Iran? And please answer it the same way like “my dream was to…”.
My dream was to, the same as the previous question, become that great artist and there was no change in it. I think, compared to… Yes, compared to the previous question, there was no change in my dream whether I immigrated or not.

This is also a little bit the same as the question that I asked about your strengths. But the important point is before you left Iran and before you became more flexible. What were your strengths before you left Iran? Have you still kept those strengths? If yes, how? If No, why not? What were the strengths that you had before all these incidents happened?
Maybe, I feel maybe in Iran, with the cultural definition of Iran, I was a person who was more emotional. And I think, maybe, the person that I was in Iran was the person who used to be very emotional, I am talking about my family here, like my parents. I would feel that I act very emotionally and I could fulfil my emotional needs by being with them. Now for example, I feel that incident did not happen. It means, I am seeing another version of myself and I feel it is not that emotional that we know by its Eastern definition. Generally, this might be counted as a negative aspect according to our culture but I myself, …

Do you count it as your strength?
Well, maybe not as a strength. Look, I don’t think I am giving it a value. But considering cultural evaluations, it can be negative. But well, I myself don’t … No it is not.

It is not? So why did you say it?
Well, my strengths, …

Tell us your strengths. If you think before you immigrated here, …
Then let us count it as a strength. Yes, yes. It can be. We can have it.

And have you still kept it?
Yes. I feel like it might be a part of such a lifestyle. Or maybe it is because … Maybe it is because I have gotten far from my family. You know. It is not easy to answer this question. You know, it is not something to be tested in a laboratory where we, for example, put the thermometer into the water to check its temperature. Comparing my current self with the one I was in Iran. I feel, I may feel that I have gotten far from my close relatives. But I don’t know if it is because of my condition or …

No, I mean the strengths that you had before, the strengths that you named, it means you still have them? Do you think that you are still that emotional person? And you still have those strengths in you?
Considering the answers that I provided, it can be said that I don’t have them now.

You don’t have it now?
I don’t have one now. Yes, it means I now feel that I am no more that emotional person for my family.

Why do you think it happened?
I think it is because I have gotten far from my family and environment and I have lost my relations with my family members and my very close friends with whom I grew up and have lots of memories in common. I am a single person who sees himself as a lonely person emotionally. Well, this version feels that such a thing does not exist but it used to be there in the past.

The things that you said are hard and I know this. But I don’t know how clearly it clarified your question. Yes, it was good actually. Because the thing that I had not understood was if you still have it or not.
No, no. I feel that No, I feel that it is gone. It means, I feel that that person who was very emotional about his family and his close friends is gone now. It has changed me to a person who, emotionally, has become unidimensional. Because my friends from years ago and my parents are not with me. Yes.

Great. Thank you. And yes I know these have been difficult experiences for you. Anyways, this is a process that is passing. But again, do you think that you grew up because of the incidents that have happened to you and the experiences that you have gained? Has there been anything positive about it?
Hundred percent. I like this theory of Adler, Adler the psychologist. Adler says that we are always growing. And I think that human’s nature is in growth. It means, it doesn’t matter in which direction you are going, growth is always there. And I believe that we are all growing without considering what is our opinion, perspective and view of the world. But we are all growing. We are on our way to progress. Then I am also not far from this growth circle.

And the positive thing that you have gained from these experiences…?
Which experiences that I don’t know?

The experiences of immigration and entering another country.
Look, basically besides its hardships, if we look at it from the top, it actually gives you a lot of good opportunities and it is an opportunity for you to learn about many other cultures. It is clear that we are talking about Stockholm. Look, we are living in a multi-cultural society and for example, I have friends who are from South America, I have friends who are Arabic native speakers, I have friends who, well, are Swedish, and you see a wonderful cultural diversity. We did not have such a thing in our country. And when you look at it from the top, you see that it can actually be good. It means you are experiencing some cultures, some varied points of view and you finally figure out that you have got people who have the same pains as you. It is not like the pain that I feel in my heart now is only for me. No, No. When we look deeply, it is a pain that we all have.

We are left with two questions. One is to, please answer it like the previous ones, “My dream is…” and the question is, what are your hopes and wishes for the future now?
The future, this “future” is personal right?

Yes, for yourself, but for the time being, it means now, in the current position. What is your dream?
My dream is to integrate with the society that has accepted me as a host, as soon as possible. And the feeling of attachment that needs to be created by time passing should be built soon so that I can feel myself as part of my new society one day. This is my dream for the coming years.

And at the end, thank you very much for answering all of the questions. Is there anything that you would like to add that can help people in Europe who are immigrants to better understand the immigration situation in Europe.
This is a very good question. I am trying to keep my sentences short but well, I hope it does not get too long.

You can add as much as you want.
Much love for you, I wish for your health first. By the way, I wanted to thank the person who is translating this audio into another language. This is what the senior people have told me who all have had an immigration background during the years. They are the people who have reached a cultural and intellectual stability. First of all, I think all of the immigrants, with all the problems that are there, need to have a positive point of view about the future. And I am thinking of a method to convey the information through sentences. There should be a positive view about the future and patience. Because the new path is full of challenges. I am emphasizing on the positive view because, not in a very psychoanalyst way that is called as positive thinking in the books, as a viewpoint that we are growing anyways. So, we can work hard to have a positive view about the future with patience and flexibility. Anyways, we are changing. All of us are changing and the situation will be different. This is something that I could think of. Is it enough? Thank you, thank you.

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.