About Refugees, By Refugees

Portrait of refugee Mustafa with a lush green plants backdrop

Mustafa Nadri

Pictures taken in:



Photo and interview by:




Mahdiyh Haidari

“The only thing that is there is hope,” says Mustafa Nadri (pseud, 34) when asked how he overcomes hardship. An Afghan born in Iran, he left home to find refuge in Europe, where he imagined people could think freely and human rights were respected. After a months-long journey, he now lives in a crowded camp in Greece. The camp “has pulled everyone to the border of insanity and madness. When we got registered and entered the camp, all of those imaginations were ruined and all of them faded away,” he says. “The difficulties are not over yet. We think we are still inside this war on life, an immigration war.” Mustafa spends his time in the camp with a journalism and photography team in an effort to bring refugees’ stories to European politicians. Despite the challenges and disappointments he faced on his journey, Mustafa dreams of “having an identity as the citizen of that country, and having security and peace.” He still has hope: “If we come out alive, then nothing will defeat us.”

Trigger Warning: Suicide; substance abuse; mental health issues

full interview

Can you please introduce yourself?
I am Mustafa Naderi … I am Mustafa Naderi, 34 years old from Afghanistan and it has been around 11 months or 12 months that I have been here in Metelini.

In what type of house do you live?
In tents that are made of fabrics.

You live in a camp?
Yes, in a camp.

Can you explain its situation? How is it? The situation in the tent?
In the tent, it is a type of tent that gets hot in the hot weather of summer and gets cold in the cold weather of winter. And there is a part time electricity that some time we have and do not have some other times.

Who do you live with?
With my other Afghan friends in the tent.

How do you spend your time here? Do you work?
No, we don’t work, and I spend most of my time with the Refocus team in photography, filming, journalism, and these (kind of) things.

What makes you happy?
When people get out of the camp and get transferred, and live in this environment and get out of this hard situation. In journalism and photography, we put all our effort to reflect people’s pains in the outside world and make people’s voices become heard by the governments of European countries and the people in Europe. This might help us throw a stone into this big mountain in order to shake this mountain so they get the people out of the camp and from this improper living conditions. And this is what makes me happy.

How has your life been from the time you came to Europe? What hardships did you have? What has been good and what has been bad?
Our expectation before coming to Europe was that when we get to the European soil, the human values are considered very high here, human values are considered very important by them, they pay a lot of attention and there are human rights here. They pay a lot of attention to humans. But from the time we entered Europe’s soil and from the time we were across the shore, the police caught us. We were still with the same mindset. But when we got registered and entered the camp, all of those imaginations were ruined and all of them faded away. And something … All my thoughts changed to lies. And I witnessed with my eyes that none of those things exist in a place that is called the center of civilization and they talk about human rights, freedom of speech. (They) keep aside the freedom of speech, the human’s right, and paying attention to human rights, I have seen none of them in the camp. All of the European politicians have closed their eyes towards people and the difficulties that they have. And it was during this time that I put effort into working in journalism to make the immigrant’s voices heard. And this was my imagination about Europe that everything is good here and they value humans, and they pay attention to people who have escaped the war and they have sought refuge in the kind hands of Europe but there has been no attention and those people are having a worse time (here) than they had in their own country. They are having a hard situation from different aspects of the environment, (from) warm weather, (to) cold weather, sanitation, food, and there is not any medical care. They limit as much as they can. This is the policy that the European Union is implementing to put pressure on the immigrants so that no one can come here.

Can you explain how living here makes you feel?
The feeling that not only me but everyone has, whether it be women men, male, female, children, in one word, it has pulled everyone to the border of insanity and madness, everyone has an unclear future, living in a crowded camp. The European politicians have done this.

How does it feel to be far from family and your home?
Very much. It is very … I feel like I would not see them again. With the situations that the Greece camps have and the situation that the European countries and European politicians have created by pressurizing the immigrants and implementing their policies. We feel like, as a single person who has been forgotten, and all of the laws have been ignored about the single people, the attention is paid to the other layers of the society such as the families, and the women, and the rest of us feel like … we wouldn’t be able to see our families again. We might reach or we might get deported because all of the rules and laws are much harder for the single person.

Would you ever think to overcome this situation? How could you overcome this situation?
Yes, life is full of challenges, hardships, problems and we have passed a lot of the hardships but not at this level. I feel like this is another fight from life for which we should be stronger and fight better. Although it has sometimes made us get on our knees, we have stood up again from our place with our whole power and have put all our effort to move forward. But sometimes we do feel exhausted whether we want it or not. But we do our best to pass these moments by keeping ourselves busy from dusk till dawn and going to classes. Because the camp environment is a bad environment and its impact is very high over every human being here. Many of my friends and many of the people inside the camp have even committed suicide or became insane, or (they) even have become alcoholics or have started using drugs inside this camp. They try to forget about their situation by drinking alcohol and using drugs. They have started using these things. Some people could not continue and deported themselves, others have gotten depressed and (are in) anxiety or have become insane.

Do you think you have gained the strength to stand against these challenges or you gained them when you faced these challenges?
I feel like I have had some problems in the past, I have gained this strength somewhat here but this problem … The way that the improved European countries are good at certain things, they are also bad at other things, but we had not faced such problems in my life. And I feel like my mind has gotten more open and has become stronger and bolder. And I feel like if we succeed to overcome this fight that we have here, the immigration game that we have here, I will become a very strong person, a fighter, and aggressive. I feel that we have a war inside the camp and if we could overcome this fight, I would feel like I am a very bold person and no other problem will defeat us.

How has corona affected your daily life, your emotions and your morale?
When the first wave of Corona came, we were feeling hopeless, desperate, and we would feel it is like a train that moves forward at a high speed and it has kept us still. That train is moving forward with all its power but the train that we are in has kept that train from moving, (it has kept if from) working hard, (and from) not moving forward. When we were in quarantine, we felt exhausted, we felt we have nothing to do, nothing to keep ourselves busy with, and I don’t know, it (just) means that we did not have anything to do and it saddened us. It was the same with the second wave that finally affected not only me but everyone in the camp, considering the morale and mental status. It finally led to people protesting, and the camp caught fire. Half of the fire was because of the people themselves when they burnt the streets. The (other part) was because of the Greek society and the police who were involved in this case.

Why did you leave your country? Can you explain what happened?
My country is a traditional society in terms of religion, culture. It is a traditional society. It means everything is very much related to each other. We are a third world country where the thoughts and beliefs are different there. A lot of things are limited. And from a religious aspect, the (country’s) society could not bear it. That is why we were forced to come to this side to follow our own beliefs which are freedom of thought, freedom of speech, and human rights, and we thought these things exist here and they value these concepts either it be ideologically, or valuing different religions. So we came to this side because (back there, there is) only one religion and one school/train of thought, that should rule in Islamic countries. Anyone who is an outsider of this organization, will be called an apostate and they will execute or kill or stone that person for being an apostate or there will be any other thing that might await that person. So we came to this side due to that mindset and since human values exist here a little bit.

What was your feeling at that time? How were you feeling?
In Afghanistan?

When those things happened and you came here.
Feeling of no existence. Feeling …of not being able to tolerate that environment, feeling that my thoughts are different from others, we felt neither the government accepts us here nor the people. It was a feeling that … ahmm … you are separated from others. It was like everyone is going in one direction and you are going the opposite way. Every moment, I would feel like any problem might appear and at any time, I don’t know (could be) tomorrow, the day after tomorrow, today, tonight, because everyone looked at you with anger, because this was a society where everyone were Islamists, everyone were conservative, and if you move against that society, it means you are an apostate and you are not a part of that society. They do not accept you to be a part of them and do not accept you.

How was your trip to Europe? Did you have any specific difficult situation that you would want to talk about?
Yes, is was very hard, very hard. I felt like it was crossing over a concrete wall. We were on the road for months, we were on the way for months in order to cross the sea and to cross borders so we would save ourselves from the problems that we had. And after months of struggles, of trying, after months of hard work, months of being in jail, months of running away in the jungles and from the police, after crossing the borders, for days and nights, after the hardships- of having no water, no food, (dealing) with stress, the fear of the police, fear of thieves, fear of wild animals, and fears of being killed on the journey…The immigration path might be a word or a sentence that people might hear about, but there are a lot of hardships (involved) in it. An immigrant accepts everything, leaves their house and home to come this way and reach their destination and somewhere to be in peace and secure. But this trip is very, … some people might stay alive and others lose their lives, or the ones that arrive alive suffer mental damages and problems.

What was your feeling at that time? The smuggling road.
It was this feeling of not being able to go forward. Actually, reaching one step forward had become a dream at that time. We thought how fortunate others who have crossed it are and have reached the other side. We felt that they have reached that place where human rights are valued very much, all of the human values and human rights. But we lost hope many times. But again, it was like a life challenge and we fought against it. Every time, (this feeling) of hopelessness was putting its hand on our chest and we fought through it and have moved forward. I told myself that I will defeat (this) and I will succeed. Many of our friends became hopeless but I said that I will fight until the (very) last minutes, either it be under the rain, or in the snow, whether it be the hot summer, I’ll continue until I have crossed over. I will not stay quiet and I finally defeated it and came forward and reached the thing that we (all) wanted. However the world was something else here. When we arrived here, everything was different. It was not the thing that we had thought of.

Do you mostly think about these incidents? For example, when do you think about it? Is there any specific time that you may think about it?
You mean the smuggling trip? Road?

Whatever you have encountered.
Yes, most of the days we sit and talk to people who were with me and my friends during our trip. Then I remember those memories that are really driving me insane and we wonder how we could have passed all those days and what has happened (to us) that we got here. We remember those nights, those seas, those borders that came, it saddens us and I think (to myself): Was it me who came along (all) this way? Was it you or someone else? How could you have passed it? I look at myself in the mirror or look at my picture on the phone and ask if it was it me who came along (all) this way? How did you pass it? How (have those) years of your life and all those hardships passed now. You finally crossed alive-all those seas, those borders, the police filters/(barricades), thieves’ filters, the hunger and thirst, the hardships along the way, the long walks. Is it you who have reached it here? It is truly insane whenever I think about it. I sometimes have nightmares of those roads, the nightmare about the sea where we sunk and survived, and nightmares about our days in the jungles. I wake up from my sleep in the middle of the night and when I wake up I find myself inside the tent and we are in this place where we have not reached our destination yet and we are still facing problems. We think/(we feel) that the difficulties are not over yet. We think we are still inside this war on life, an immigration war, and (that we are) on our immigration road. This is what I think, yet we are more determined and are moving forward like an arrow that is sent out of the bow and goes forward. And I feel I have to pierce/(do) everything in order to reach my goals and sit there and hit the goal and sit there and reach the thing that we want.

How do you feel when you think about it?
Insanity. It is crazy. Feeling depressed, feeling very sad, feeling exhausted, it is very tiring, very much.

Has the situation that you have faced today affected you? How?
The situation that we have faced today has affected us. Especially … It has had a lot of impacts. Especially after the fire, … After the fire, (when) I go to sleep late at night, I actually don’t have a proper sleep. We wake up early in the morning and sleep late at night and can’t go to sleep, a lot of absurd and useless thoughts come to mind. I have no peace. I’ve been thinking about it, that if we reach our destination, we’ll experience a lot of mental and moral damages. (I’ve been thinking about) how we were that healthy person who left their country to save their life and stay alive, how we were somewhat mentally calmer than today. Today I think, that (even though, we might) reach our destination and reach our family who live in Switzerland, we’re damaged mentally and emotionally. Not only me but every other immigrant whether small, big, girls, boys, men, or women, that spend these days and nights in the camps sees the things that no one else sees. We are negatively affected, emotionally and mentally. We (can) only reach somewhere with our bodies but our souls have died. Our bodies are alive and we are physically here but our souls are dead. Once we reach our destination, we need to be treated by psychologists for years until we’ll reach that calmness and gain back our previous normal mental and emotional state.

Would you ever think to overcome this situation?
Yes, because I have passed a lot of hardships, there were difficulties that I passed, but we do have a fight against the politicians here that has been systematically conducted and is implemented on us. So we feel that we have to overcome this hardship, to be stronger than this, either one step back or forward. We either have to give up on all the hardships and difficulties that we’ve had and get on our knees or move ahead and overcome the problems that we had already passed and pass them again. I think nothing else will defeat us if we come out of here successfully and alive. If we come out alive, then nothing will defeat us. If we come out in a good mental and emotional state, then nothing will conquer me.

How could you overcome these problems? Did you have a special mechanism and strategy? Where would you find this strength and support? Did you have it before?
The only thing that would make us do the thing that you said is hope. The only thing that is there is hope. I feel like I’m moving in the dark where I search for a light, a brightness. Although I don’t see the light, I’m hopeful in moving forward and surviving this darkness and I will find that light, so that this darkness will end. It is only hope that has kept me and maybe some other immigrants strong. Some people have maybe given up and got deported, some have given up and become insane, others may have become mentally ill, it differs. However it has only been hope that has given me support.

What was your dream before these incidents happened before you encountered these problems and had to escape from your house?
My dream … my dream … was to be accepted with whatever I was, in any society that I live in. To be accepted by that society (regardless) of any situation that we have and in any position that we are, whether we’re black or white, whatever ideology we have, whatever religion we have even if we are different from them. My wish was to live freely, think freely, talk freely and be somewhere where there is no limitation for our behavior, our mindset, our religion and our lifestyle. To be accepted in their society both by the government and the people.

What is your dream now? Your wishes?
My dream now … Is to have an identity. Having an identity as the citizen of that country, … and having security and peace. To be handed something and be able to build ourselves and take our life forward with all the efforts that we want to put into our life. To … build our future and have them with ourselves and be able to move onward. If we do not have these things, we will be stopped from going on and will never (be able to) reach the things that we want. We want a place where we can reach our goals from different aspects like education, life and living. We need an identity and to be accepted so we (can) achieve the things that I’ve mentioned.

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.