About Refugees, By Refugees
Pictures taken in:
Photo and interview by:
Asif & Shawiz Tamimi
“My dream was to become an athlete, a runner, and have a quiet life. I wanted to live like a normal person with all normal human rights,” says Rohid Shafai (pseud, 19) of his childhood dream. He left his home in Afghanistan at the age of 12 to find work in Iran. Six years later, he travelled to Greece. He describes his journey of being stuffed into cars and walking through mountains as “both emotionally and physically hard,” but he “was able to reach this place with patience.” Now, he cannot work, study, or exercise and “feels hopeless” when he remembers his journey or thinks of his current uncertain situation. His asylum process has been lengthy since arriving in Greece two years ago: “they scheduled my interview for three years from now and there’s nothing I can do about it. Our anxiety grows bigger every day.” Despite everything, Rohid still dreams of becoming a runner. He hasn’t seen his parents in eight years, but says, “I still hope to fulfil my dreams and support my family.”
Please introduce yourself.
My name is Rohid, I am from Daikundi, Afghanistan.
What is your surname?
Where do you live?
We live in temporary housing.
Could you please describe your living conditions?
It is disastrous. We are eight people in one unit. For instance, when the water tap doesn’t work or when something breaks inside our unit, no one helps or pays attention. The situation is terrible.
With whom do you live?
I do not know the people I’m living with in this unit. There are eight of us living together here.
What do you do during the day? Do you work?
I can’t do anything. I just sit inside my unit 24 hours a day, waiting. It is not possible to study or exercise, There is nothing here.
Don’t you work?
No, I do not work. Where can I work? There is no work here. Nothing is here. There is no material to even to study the language. I do nothing but sitting inside my unit all day.
What can make you happy here in the camp?
I do not think there is anything that can make me happy. We are all in a situation where our anxiety and problems just grow bigger every day.
Can you describe this further?
For instance, they scheduled my interview for three years from now and there’s nothing I can do about it. My life is one big disaster here. Our anxiety grows bigger every day. We have nothing pleasant or diverting here. This is not a good place.
How has life been since you arrived in Europe? What was good, what was hard?
It has been two years now since I arrived in Europe and then they scheduled my interview for another three years from now. The only positive experience I had was two years ago when I was on Lesbos, and I was doing yoga. I met new people during the yoga course. But since they moved me out here, I have not had any diversions, no exercise, no school. The worst thing is that two years of my life were wasted in Greece, and now things will continue the same way. Until my interview, three more years will be wasted. All in all, this is not a proper place. For instance, when I go to stores, I can only communicate with gestures. I do not even know Greek because there has been no language course offered to learn Greek.
Can you describe how you feel about living in Europe?
Europe has been a terrible disappointment. I did not expect it to be like this. Actually, I feel hopeless. There is no work, no school, nothing. There is only uncertainty, nothing is clear.
How does it feel to be away from your family and country? How does your loneliness affect your daily life? What are your concerns?
I miss my parents a lot. I haven’t seen them for eight years. I want to work hard and build my life first before I visit my parents.
Did you imagine the situation would be so hard? Did you think things would be so hard before you came? How did you handle it?
I did not have any other choice. This was the only way possible. I worked in Iran for 6 years, but nothing came of it. There is no job, no security in Afghanistan, I had no choice but to come to Europe for a better life. I am withstanding all these hardships so I can build a better life.
Did you imagine ending up in such a situation? Did you imagine this path would be so hard?
No. I never imagined I would end up in such a bad situation.
How do you deal with it?
I do not have any other choice. I have to bear these hard times so that one day, I will be able to see my parents again.
Were you able to deal with such challenges before immigrating? Or was it immigrating that made you strong enough to bear the burden?
I never thought I would find myself in such a hard situation. But I have to go through all these endless problems to reach somewhere better.
How do you stand your current situation?
It is not a good situation. Everything is uncertain. Our future is not clear We do not know what will happen tomorrow.
How has the coronavirus affected your daily life, feelings, behavior and mood?
The situation before Corona was bad enough, the situation after or during Corona is just as bad. No difference, no change.
Hasn’t Corona effected your comings and goings
Yes it has. We need to wear masks when we go out.
So you have not felt any significant difference and change in your life?
No, because I am inside my unit all day, I do not go to work, so I am not scared of Corona. The ones who go to work should be afraid and take precautions to prevent infection.
Why did you leave your country?
When I left Afghanistan, I was very young. I went to Iran because my dad wanted me to. Our financial situation was terrible. My dad told me I had to go to Iran and work.
How long have you been away from Afghanistan?
How long were you in Iran?
I was in Iran for 6 years and then in Greece for two years.
After 6 years in Iran, why did you decide to come to Europe? Why didn’t you return to your country?
I worked in Iran but I did not have a work permit. And when we told Iranians they should pay us more, they threatened to call the police and send us back to our respective countries. So, we had to work and send money to our families to support them. After 6 years, it was not possible to return to Afghanistan. There was no work there and the security situation was very precarious. Then my dad told me I had to go to Europe to change my life for the better.
How did you feel the first time you left Afghanistan?
When I left Afghanistan, I was very young, I did not understand anything. My dad told me that I had to become a man, I had to work. My dad’s words gave me confidence, and I found the courage to go to Iran for work.
How old were you then?
I was twelve. When I left Afghanistan, I was twelve.
How did you find your way to Europe?
I traveled inside a truck from Afghanistan to Iran. There were 25 people in the truck. The trip to Iran was very hard. I was young then, I was only twelve years old.
How did you travel from Iran to Turkey?
I traveled in a Peugeot with twelve other people. Four of us, including me, were in the trunk. It was hard to breathe.
Did you have to walk part of the way or were you in a car the entire trip?
We had to walk, too. We walked two days in the mountains. It was raining and was cold. This was very difficult to bear.
What season was it?
It was fall, very rainy and cold.
How long did the whole trip take?
Four days. Two days we walked in the rain through the mountains, which was very trying. We had neither food nor water. We were very hungry.
How did you get from Turkey to Greece?
I do not know what kind of car took us from Turkey to Greece. There were 75 of us in the car. We could neither sit nor breathe. We were in the car until we reached the beach. At the beach, forty-five of us were put in a ten-meter boat and were told to move towards a light far ahead. Over there, is the island (Lesbos) and the police will take you to shore.
How could 75 people fit inside the car?
We were all standing, there was not enough room for us, so they kicked us and stuffed us into the car. We could not even breathe.
How big was the car?
The car was small. I think it was three meters long, but the human traffickers were able to fit 75 people inside.
Were there any families among you?
They were mostly families, there was only a few who were traveling alone like me.
Were there any children or seniors inside the car?
Yes, there were 3 or 4 children and 2 or 3 old men.
Was it hard for them? How was their situation inside the car?
It was hard. The young kids got trampled. It was very bad inside the small car. It was hard for the old men,too. They were glued to a corner, and they could not even move. They could not breathe well.
Did you see anyone get injured there? When you all got out of the car, was everyone okay?
Not really. When we got out of the car, we were all dizzy and unaware of our surroundings. We could not recognize each other due to the lack of oxygen inside the car.
Which part of your trip do you remember and will never forget?
When I was traveling from Afghanistan to Iran in a truck with 25 other people. The road was very uneven and bumpy. My legs were injured. I have not forgotten this, and I never will.
How did your legs get injured? What happened?
There were too many people in the car and everyone was standing. With all the bumps on the road, my legs kept hitting the sharp metal parts on the side of the car, so my legs were injured very badly. Even when we got out of the car, I could not feel my legs, I could not walk. I will never forget that.
Do you often think about your bad memories? What happens to you that triggers those memories?
I think about what happened all the time. It was an enormous experience, full of bad memories.
What specific thing reminds you of those bad memories?
Nothing specific. I often return to them.
When you remember these memories, how do you feel?
I tell myself, I went through all these troubles. For what? I become very hopeless. I feel hopeless.
How do those bad events affect your daily life?
Going through all those troubles has not had a positive effect on my life. There is only uncertainty here, nothing is clear. It looks like we are in Europe, but it does not feel like it.
How has all this hardship affected your feelings and behaviour?
It does not have an effect on me.
It is true that you went through endless hardship. But did you imagine before you set out, that you could overcome and control this situation?
No one could imagine what it would be like to face so many difficulties. Everyone has their own problems. Trafficking is one of the ways to deal with them. There are thousands of human traffickers out there and there are many routes.
How were you able to reach this place?
With patience. I was able to reach this place with patience.
Was it more difficult emotionally or physically? Was it harder on your mental or your physical well-being?
It was hard on both. For instance, it was more physically straining when I was traveling from Iran to Turkey for four days. In the middle of mountains and cold weather. We did not know when we would arrive. We didn’t even know where we were. Were we in the middle or at the end of the trek? Would it ever be over or not? It was emotionally hard since we did not know what would happen to us. Will we arrive in Turkey? Will we get arrested by Iranian or Turkish police and get sent back to Afghanistan? Nothing was clear, that is why it was both emotionally and physically hard. And I had to withstand it.
Did you have a plan? Did you have a vision of your success?
No I did not have a plan. All I could do was trust the trafficker.
How could you trust the trafficker?
The traffickers don’t get paid unless we arrive at our destination.
How did you gain courage, support and strength?
I didn’t. There was no support. I was going to pay the traffickers with the money I earned in Iran, so I had to trust them. It was me and the trafficker. I did not have any support.
Before you left your country and started out on this journey, what was your plan for the future?
I was very young back then, I wanted to become a soccer player. I wanted to become a strong man who could stand on his feet and support his family.
When you left your country to go to Iran, what was your dream?
When I went to Iran, my dream was to find a good job and support my family. Six years later, when you decided to leave Iran for Europe, what was your dream? My dream was to become an athlete, a runner, and have a quiet life. I wanted to go to a good country and become a citizen of that country. I wanted to live like a normal person with all normal human rights.
Before you left your country, what was your strength?
When I left Afghanistan, I was very young, and I did not have a special ability. I was only hopeful .
You were hopeful for what?
Hopeful to support my family. I wanted to support my family.
Do you still have that hope?
Yes, I still hope to become successful and support my family. To fulfill my dreams and support my family.
It seems like you experienced endless difficulties on your way. Do you think those experiences brought some progress in your life? Do you think your journey has given you any positive or fortunate things?
All those events are now my life experience. They have made me grow.
What are the positive things about your journey?
One positive thing was meeting various people and making new friends with whom I am still in touch.
What is your dream now?
My dream is to become a runner and live a peaceful life.
Thank you for answering these questions. Is there anything you want to add at the end? Any message to show other people the refugees’ situation?
My message is for Europeans. I want them to treat everyone equally. They believe all refugees are the same, but it is not true. No two of us are alike, one is good and one is bad. You cannot judge everyone by only one person.
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.