About Refugees, By Refugees

Portrait of refugee Niyaz standing sideways with hands in the jacket's pocket.


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Photo and interview by:




Belal Darder Mohamed

“I will feel free here,” says Niyaz (pseud. 24) when asked about his future in Spain. “Here is where everything is great.” Niyaz fled Baku, Azerbaijan due to the homophobia he experienced from his family and his community. “You can’t go with your boyfriend in outside…. it can be dangerous.” He says of his country, “it’s great country, if you are tourist there. But when you are living there, it’s really too hard.” He says the cost of living is high, but wages are low, and that the people “don’t love the life. They want just get money and spend money… but our lives, I think more than these, these things.” He first left Baku after studying, moving to Turkey and then Ukraine, where met his boyfriend. But he again faced discrimination and so moved to Spain where he would be safer. He now waits for his boyfriend to arrive. “I have a dream to… feel really free and happy with my boyfriend… I want to get marriage with him and have a child, so we have plans about that and it’s our dream.”

Trigger Warning:

full interview

So I would um I would like you to tell me Niyaz about what kind of housing do you live in right now?
For now, it’s the gu-guest house.

It’s like a guest house where we are awaiting our next step. Yes, so I am living here five days already and I think for me, everything is great there. It’s, there is nice people, nice service, nice rooms. Yeah, I, I like this place.

And do you live in, uh, separate rooms or do you?
No we, we, I’m living in a room with, six persons, but there is the eight be-beds. But about COVID, I think now we are not eight, we are six person, yes.

Okay and, um, so this is a very interesting question because you recently arrived, but how do you spend your time?
Oh, you know, just walking, walking around the hostel and… And I like watch, some YouTube channels I have and, I’m watching these videos, yes.

Uh huh. And, um, what do you do to be happy right now?
So right now I’m speaking, to be happy, I am speaking with my boyfriend.

Yeah and it, it’s make, its makes me happy.

For now, yeah.

And, um, can you describe Spain? What do you think about Spain?
So before, before my trip to Spain, I think it’s, it’s beautiful country, but I think it’s, too poor country and I imagined that it’s Spain is like some maybe African countries or some Balkan countries, but no, here is not like there, I was shocked. Here is where everything is great. I mean, roads, buildings, all of type infrastructure is very great. And, and I, I, I love Spain, I’ve already for five days, I love Madrid. I don’t know about other cities, but Madrid, I love this city, yes.

What would be a surprise to you? I mean, you talked about how everything is, but what would be a surprise to you?
Yeah, a surprise, it was, as I said, good roads. Good, I mean, buildings, I mean infrastructure, metro, buses, buildings and everything. Also, I was shocked about people. I think people here is, more aggressive to the, to expats. But no, it’s not, it’s not true. The people are great, everyone are smiling and everyone so wants to speak you. And it’s, it’s, it’s really great. In my country, people are very aggressive and you can’t, you can’t watch, look to someone and smile. Yeah, it’s, it will be, it, it you will be do, do this thing, you will be, you will have problems with this person. But here, not like this, yeah. Also I was shocked about that.

How does this make you feel about your future in Spain?
So I seen I will, I will, I will be free, I will feel free here, and it’s too important for me. Because of in, I lived before Spain, I lived in the Ukraine and they are also very aggressive people, I don’t know why, but, you know, you can’t feel you’re, you’re, you’re free and you, um… So every day you feel like you will have some problems today, you will have some bad things today, but here I don’t feel it. Actually, for now, I don’t feel it, yes.

And, um, you are away from, from your family, you’re away from your loved ones, you are away from your friends?

How does that make you feel?
So, you know, to for last one and half years, I didn’t have, I didn’t have friends. So I have just some mates in Spain and in Ukraine, but I don’t have a friend, friends. That’s why it’s easy for me and about my family, so in past I have the problems with the, with my family, that’s why it’s also okay for me. I’m just, thinking only about my boyfriend and waiting when he, he will come also and we’ll be together here.

Okay and um tell me about your personal qualities that, that, that makes you, or that make you take the decision to leave everything to go to a new country, to start a new life?

Wha-What what makes you?
So? I was born in Baku, Azerbaijan and my country is, my people is more Muslims and, we are from… How, how can I say it? Azerbaijan is on …., it’s mountains. Yes, that’s, that’s why our people, they are trying to be, to be strong, and to be like, I don’t know… So, I don’t know, it’s about religion or it’s about the culture in mountains, but very strong people in my country and sometimes it’s not good. It’s not good for, for, for, safety, for free – for freedom in my country. And so when I, when I was studying school, I think then I, I think about to move to other country. I think it’s not my country and, I wanted to learn everything. I mean, I wanted to learn, to learn a lot. But in my country, in school, in university, it’s impossible, you… so I mean, study is not good. And that’s why I wanted to move to Turkey for study, but I can’t, I couldn’t. So after that, when I was studying university we have practice and for practice, I moved to Turkey, to Antalya and work there. And it was my first move first to from Azerbaijan and, there I feel also good. But then I was, yeah more young than now and I, I, I didn’t have the relationships, that’s why Turkey, for me, also was good. Everything was good there.
But when I finished my practice, I came back to Baku and everything was again everything gray, and, I don’t know… I didn’t feel freedom, I didn’t feel free and happy, yes. That’s why I learned a lot of language for, for travel or for move to other countries. So, yeah, after Turkey, it was Ukraine, I found, -my boyfriend there and we have, we have relationships two, two year – more than two years already – yes, and we are happy. But Ukraine, it’s the same country, similar like in Azerbaijan. I mean two countries, Soviet Union countries, that’s why we have a lot of problems there with democracy, with freedom, with everything. We have a lot of problems. So less salaries, expensive prices, yeah. So I think to USA, but USA, it’s way too hard for, for move. So I tried but after that, we with my boyfriend we think about which country will be better for us, uh, not cold, not too expensive, and but with good people and good economy, so we choosed Spain. For now, I am here and waiting him.

Okay. And, um, from what you’re saying, I feel that you always had a sense of alienation?

Like you felt like this is not your home?
Yes, yes.

Not, not belong to –
Yes right.

To Baku or to Azerbaijan or to Ukraine. Can you touch a little bit about why do you think that?
So, you know, I love my city.

It’s very nice city. So if you want, if you are traveling to Baku to Azerbaijan for one or two weeks, it’s great country, if you are tourist there. But when you are living there, it’s really too hard, you know, in markets and shops, in metro and buses, everyone very aggressive. So you can’t look to other one, to other peop- to other person. He can, scream to you, he can, I don’t know, beat you about that – ‘Why you are looking for me?’ or ‘Why you are smiling to me?’ Yes. And everyone trying to be alive, you know, everyone trying to get more money and, and as I know, money is the bad things for our countries. I mean, we are independent, 30 years, that’s why we need to go to the future. I mean, we need to have democracy, we need to have good study. But now, in my country, we want thinking only about money. How, how can I get more money? Yes, that, that’s the problem.

And the, can you – is it safe for uh, uh, uh, an LGBT community member to live in Azerbaijan?
Uh, it depends of your family. You know, if you are from a rich family, yes, it’s safe. But if you are from, sort of, standard family, it’s ninety,, ninety-eight percent of people of Azerbaijan so it’s not too safe. You know, you can’t go with your boyfriend in outside. It, it can be, it can be dangerous. So also you can’t get marriage. You can’t get, child, of course. And if your family and your friends is, type I’m calling like a typical Azerbaijanis, then you will have a lot of problems and big problems, as me. So when I say to my family, to my mother about that, about, my sexuality, she was shocked. And after that, my brother, he… So, he, he was beat me and he called me a faggot and blah, blah, blah, yes. So that, it was really hard for me. That was six years ago and I was so too young. Yeah, it was too hard for me and then I think I, I will not, I want to leave Baku. So that’s why I moved from there, but I love this city, really, it’s very nice city, but I hate people about that.

Mmm. And how does that make you feel that you have to leave your home because of who you are?
So, I was now also I’m a very open person and friendly person, so, when I leave my home, I was happy. So first, few weeks, I was happy, I’m not in Baku, I’m not in Azerbaijan, I can do everything what I want, I mean, so I mean be open gay, but in Turkey, I did it, but I was there around six months. It’s not too much time, you know, for, to be a local person, local people. But in Ukraine, I can’t to, to do this. It was too hard. I had a lot of problems in Ukraine also. So I had to fight there with other guys. Yeah when they saw me with my boyfriend, they, yes, they wanted to beat, they wanted to to make some problems for us. Um, yes, and, and there is too cold and everything is grey, people are not happy, also very aggressive people. Also they are thinking only about money, yeah, how how can I get more money and buy something or to… Yeah, that’s it. So they, they don’t have and Ukrainian and my people they don’t have, you know, how can I say ‘love for’… They don’t, they don’t love the life. They want just get money and spend money, get money and spend money, but our lives, I think more than these, these things, yes.

And, um, how was your journey to Spain? Tell me about the airport thing.
Yeah, it was, it was really, I was really scared about that. I mean, we planned it around one month. So I am a citizen of the Azerbaijan Republic and we don’t need a visa to Colombia, to Ecuador, to Dominicana. And I think which country will be cheaper, cheapest and will be safety for me. I mean, if Span-Spanish government, they will send me to, to my last destination, so I, I choosed Colombia, I bought a ticket to Colombia, to Bogota from Istanbul. Yes, so from Kiev, I went to Istanbul, from Istanbul, I, I have a ticket from Istanbul to Bogota, but transfer in Madrid. So I came to Madrid and that’s it, I’m here now.

So how is it? Because I never, uh, like do you go to the officer and say you want to apply for asylum or?
Yes, you can, yes, you can do like that. If you, if you’re not, if you have a visa, you can, as I know, you can, go to inside of Spain and do, do it in Spain.

No but if you don’t have a visa.
Yes. Yes, you can, you can ask something there. So I want to ask asylum and that’s it, they will speak with you how it will be, how you can, what you can do and, and that’s it yes.

Do they provide you the translator or, uh?
No. First of all, no. You know, you can ask some officers or some workers about that. After some police will take you and they will take you to, to police and you will wait your translator, you can ask a translator, but it will be maybe after two or three days. So you should wait for the translator.

And did you wait for your translator?
Yes, yes I waited, of course. So I can, I, I can, I could do it in English, but so for my case, I need other language, Turkish language. But that’s why I waited there. So if I think if I asked English, translator, I can do it in same, same day. But, in Turkish it was, so I waited.

So you did it in Turkish, your interview in Turkish?
Yes, yes. Yes.

Out of curiosity, what language do you think of?
All language. You know, so when I’m speaking in English, of course, I’m thinking in English. When I’m doing, when I’m doing nothing, I think in Russian and Azeri. So when I, I watched some movie or some video in Ukrainian I think in Ukrainian. Also, when I watch a movie in Turkish, I can think in Turkish, so can think in five, five languages.

So, and also when I, when I’m sleep, so I, I see my dreams in Russian, in Turkish, in Azeri and in Ukrainian. Yeah, it’s really, by the way, it’s very hard, it’s very difficult when you want to speak in some language, you have in your brain, a lot of things in other language. That’s why it’s very hard to speak when you know all that language.

Do you reflect about the events that led to you leaving your country? Do you think about these things sadly, happily?
Oh…So, no, of course, happily, I was happy, now also I’m happy. So, you know, there I, I have no, I have nothing there. So I have just my apartment in Baku and that’s it. So, and there, now in my apartment living my mother, so we have, we don’t have good relationships with with my mom, that’s why so, you know, I’m not sad. I, I, I don’t was sad, now also I’m not sad, I’m very happy. So that’s it, so.

Perfect, that’s it.
And thank you.

Thank you. So not audible) can you tell me a little bit about your dream, uh, here in Spain?
Yes, so I have a dream to, of course, to it to feel really free and happy with my boyfriend. We so I want to get marriage with him and have a child, so we have plans about that and it’s our dream. So yeah that’s it.

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.