About Refugees, By Refugees

Portrait of refugee Robert wearing a hat

Robert Alby

Pictures taken in:



Photo and interview by:




Ali Lorestani

“The time I was leaving, my dream was to not be arrested,” recalls Robert Alby (pseud, 58), who fled from Iran at age 21 when he was expelled from university due to not being Muslim. He paid a bribe to escape imprisonment, then managed to make his way overland to Europe, traveling via Turkey and then-Yugoslavia. His plan was to “start a new life and go to university… I didn’t have this opportunity in Iran because my family’s financial situation was not good and after they kicked me out of university, nothing good was left.” He describes the journey as “hard, but I was accepting the hardships with happiness.” On arriving in Sweden, Robert recalls that “it was like I had just come home.” Today, he lives with his nephew in Stockholm, and dreams of having a peaceful, comfortable life and a good relationship with his children and grandchildren. He describes himself as an altogether optimistic person: “I believe in myself. I saw this as one of my strengths and I still do.”

Trigger Warning:

full interview

I’m going to start recording … let me get the questions. The first question, what kind of house do you live in?
An apartment in Stockholm.

Can you explain it a little bit? How is it? Is it big or small?
It is a home with two bedrooms, it is 73 meters. Now, I live there with my nephew. It is located in one of the good areas of Stockholm, it’s quiet.

You stated who do you live with which was my next question. How do you spend your time here?
Except for my job?

Both job and other activities.
I do work. Then I …ah … what do they call it … the activities that I like to do are, one of them is that I go out with my friends. Another one is that I like to work with my hands, either it be carpentry, or mechanics, or making bracelets or whatever. I love cooking too.

What makes you happy?
To call my children and grandchildren. And the times that I can relax with my friends.

How has life been from the time you came to Europe and what has been hard about it? What is good about it?
It has been 38 years since I left Iran. The first years were very great. I was very much enjoying everything. I first went to university, then I got married exactly by the end of university and became a father, then I started working. Then, I went to live on a farm with my family for around 25 years. Then I came back to Stockholm and unfortunately my wife and I got a divorce. Everything was OK and wonderful until I got divorced. The hardships started after my divorce, the loneliness started, otherwise, everything was ok.

Can you please explain how life has been in Sweden or generally Europe, how does it feel?
For me, coming out of Iran had a natural feeling because I was not comfortable in Iran. I am not a Muslim and I was not comfortable there. When I came to Sweden it was like I had just come home. Then, I worked in every part of the world during this time, and wherever I was, I have enjoyed. I have been able to cope with everyone everywhere. Europe has been a step forward to me. I am still in this mindset.

How old were you when you came to Europe?
I was 21 years old.

Did you come alone or with your family?
I came alone.

Wasn’t it hard for you to go to another country alone while your family was in another country?
I was just enjoying myself at that time. My plan was to reach somewhere, start a new life and go to university. I never missed my home and my family. It was all excellent.

Were there any challenges?
Ah … not too much. Well, life is not good all the time, it has ups and downs. But, I am an optimistic person. I am always looking ahead. Here, I have always seen the good.

Now a question that is a little bit related to today. How has Covid-19 affected your daily life?
Unfortunately it has very much affected my life because it caused … the work that I do is mostly with people. It means, face to face meetings. Now it has changed a lot, the shape of my work has changed. It is no more that thing that I wanted. My work has changed a lot. Then, in my family, my mother was infected and she is still not well. But I want to say that it totally changed my life direction.

I didn’t ask about it earlier, so what is your job?
I … there is no word for it in Farsi. I am an agile coach. I work with IT as a coach. I mostly do some management and coaching, I mostly work with the development. I don’t know it in Farsi.

It doesn’t matter. It is ok if the words are in English but I forgot to tell you to not use Swedish words. It should not be Swedish because it makes it hard for the translators to understand, but English is OK. There are some questions about the past, and the questions that you don’t like to answer, feel free to not answer. Answer them as much as you like. Why did you leave your own country? Can you explain what happened?
I … got my diploma before the Islamic Revolution and became a university student. I was in Sanati University of Tehran. When the revolution happened, they closed the university first and then they sent me out of university because I was not Muslim. Then I was arrested, that is why I came out of Iran to be able to … I paid money to be released and then I escaped. I came … I was pursuing my studies that is why I came to Sweden.

In which year did it happen?
I came out of Iran in the year 83 and reached Sweden in 85.

So you had a long trip? I will get to that point too. Generally, what was your feeling when these incidents happened and you were forced to …?
When … I was forced to … when the incidents and fights happened in Iran, it was not a good thing, I was not feeling good. But when I decided to come out of Iran, I was just looking into the future. And fortunately, I was very lucky to be able to get out. It was not easy but I was always happy and cool. I was just seeing the positive. It was hard but I was accepting the hardships with happiness. During the one year and some months that I was outside, I was never disappointed.

Going back to that part, how was your trip to Europe? If there is anything special that you still remember, tell us about that trip.
I came out of Iran by land and went to Turkey and I found out that it is not possible to stay in Turkey. Then I continued and went on to a city by the name of Belgrade which belonged to Yugoslavia at that time but it now belongs to another country. I was in Belgrade and I started a black job because I had very little money with me. My family was not a rich family, I myself also had a little money and I had taken with me the little savings that I had. I started working, black work. And in three months in Belgrade, I learned the Serbo-Croatian language, which helped me be comfortable there. I had rented a room in a house with a low price because it was easy for me after I learned the language. I was enjoying it very much. I was working black three to four hours a day and I would spend the rest of my time swimming, exercising, and I was going here and there. That is why although I stayed there for nine to ten months, I never had a bad feeling at all. Talking, laughing, I was laughing, I was doing exercises every day.

How did you continue your trip from there?
I … when I learned that Sweden is accepting immigrants, without asking anyone how I should come, I searched about it myself and came here all by myself. At that time, there was still eastern and western Germany. They told me to go to the Embassy of Eastern Germany and tell them that you want a transit visa to go to Western Berlin. I went there and told them that I want to go to Western Berlin and they gave me a visa which cost no more than three dollars. Then, after using that transit visa, I went and took a ticket to western Berlin, not western but Eastern Berlin. There, I took a taxi and went to the train station. I bought a ticket for Sweden. I came to Sweden and when reached here, I told them I want asylum. It looks easy and I did come easily. I paid no money to none of these middlemen and those who help with these things. I came by myself.

How did you feel when you reached Sweden?
Wonderful. Wonderful. I was in a camp first. I changed three camps until I reached a place where I was supposed to be there for some months to see if they would accept me or not. It was on an island. I made friends with some people and the day after I reached there, I started learning Swedish. I started speaking Swedish in just three months. Although wrong, I was speaking the language. I talked a lot that time and still do. I was enjoying it very much. We started with a … I started learning Swedish in a school and was living in a camp. I made a lot of friends in that school. Party after party, laughter, learning, and I was just studying and enjoying myself. It was nothing else. I stayed there for four and half months. They helped me, the government helped me. I came to Stockholm where they gave me a house in one of its suburbs by the name of Åkersberga. I started completing my Swedish and then I started my university in the fall of that year.

What did you study?
I in … Koteo … which is … what is it called, … which is the industrial university here. I studied electro-technique. Then, I majored in telecommunications, computer science.

About the trip that you had, do you still think about that process? Or it is something that you no longer think about?
No, sometimes it’s memories that come alive when I meet some of the people who were with me, and then its memories come back. Or else, it belongs to 36 years ago. 35 or 36 years ago, it’s just a memory now. There are other things that I can think about.

It is an important question. It is kind of a key question. Please start your answer by saying “my dream was”. Before all these incidents happened that made you leave Iran, what was your dream?
My dream was to continue my education and start a good life. But I didn’t have this opportunity in Iran because my family’s financial situation was not good and after they kicked me out of university, nothing good was left.

And please answer this one the same as “My dream was …”. That moment that you were leaving the country, what was your dream for the future?
The time I was leaving, my dream was to not be arrested (laughter). And be able to reach somewhere. Because, when I was leaving Iran, I didn’t know where I wanted to go. My only goal was to leave there so I wouldn’t get arrested, because I was a runaway. That is why I had no dream except to be able to go and reach somewhere. There was nothing else because I hadn’t thought about what would come next at that moment, I can’t say more about it.

These are almost the last questions, before you left Iran, can you please explain what you consider as your strength and do you still have those strengths? If yes, how? If no, why not?
I am an optimistic person. I believe in myself. I saw this as one of my strengths and I still do. I am an optimistic person and always, … all the time … I want to solve everything. It means … “problem-solver”. If something happens, I face it, solve it and go forward. I was this way from the time I was in Iran and I am still the same. I still believe in it.

Please answer the way you answered before like “My dream is”. What is your dream now for the future?
I wish to have a good relationship with my kids and my grandchildren. And I want to have a peaceful and comfortable life for the rest of the time that remains of my life.

At the end, thanks for taking your time and if there is anything you would like to add. Anything that can help others who want to come or have already come here.
The only thing that I can say is … because I am very much engaged with people, hmm, they focus on negative things. I suggest they focus on positive things. Try to press harder on the positive. The negatives will pass. This is what I also do. Try to enjoy your life. I myself didn’t have a lot of peace because I didn’t want to. Now that I have reached here, I want peace too. But I still don’t know how to achieve it. I suggest it to everyone to try to find your desire and try to enjoy your life. That’s it.

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.