About Refugees, By Refugees

Roholah Mohamadi

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Photo and interview by:




Asif & Shawiz Tamimi

I hope they live in a secure world,” says Roholah Mohamadi (35), speaking about his children’s future. Roholah grew up in Iran, but an issue with residence cards saw him and his wife deported to Afghanistan, his country of birth – a place they neither knew nor felt secure in. “People who lived there didn’t care about bombs or seeing someone being killed… We found it hard to live in this situation.” In Europe, he hoped, he’d find peace and a future for his family. The journey was “like a movie.” He and his young family were forced to cross a freezing lake, stuffed into an over-crowded, airless bus and had to make a dangerous sea crossing. He thought they’d drown: “When the boat was full of water, I couldn’t even talk to my family. We were crying… My wife couldn’t swim and I wasn’t able to choose which one of them to rescue.” Now they stay in a refugee camp in Greece which is like “a prison.” But, “I try to think positively,” he says. “If we get depressed, no one can give hope to our children.”

Trigger Warning:

full interview

Can you introduce yourself? Where are you from?
Right, I am Rohollah Mohamadi, my nickname is Adel. Some friends prefer calling me Adel. I was born in Afghanistan. I was three or four that I went to Iran with my family. I grew up and studied in Iran. We lived in Iran but we were from Afghanistan. Do you want me to tell you my story about how we came to Greek or later? 

Who do you live with in here?
I live with my family. My wife, me and my three children.

Where do you live in here?
In a cage! We live in a metal prefabricated house which is hard to live during the winter because of cold and during the summer because of hot weather. But it is not really bad. It has its problems. For example, it is not good for young children. There is no recreational area or park. 

Who do you live with?
My wife, me and my children. I have an eight-year-old daughter, a four-year-old son and another son, Mohammad, who is one year old. 

How do you use your time? Do have any duty?
No, no one does a specific duty here. To reduce the pressure and not become depressed, we have to make a job to do. Most of the time, learning English which has been canceled because of Coronavirus pandemic. We don’t have any responsibility. Sometimes, we do exercise with our friends to prevent depression. 

What can make you happy here?
Pleasure, …, when…. When we see one of our townsmen has a problem. … (the voice of hello in the background).

What things can you make happy?

Yes, please.
Sometimes you see that someone is in trouble and then they have been supported by an organization and they can go to a new country. This can make you happy. Or sometimes when you see someone tries to learn a new language and he/she is happy. It might make you glad. That’s it. There is no other reason to be happy. 

For example, if we take a language course, what can specifically make you happy?
When something brings happiness to me… for example, my wife studied in Iran and she has bachelor and master degrees. I will be extremely happy, if she could reach her goals. She wants to be a PhD candidate and she couldn’t do it because of some problems. 

How have you lived since you arrived in Europe?
Honestly, hard. 

What was hard?
You might feel homesick. Sometimes Greek behaviors were not appropriate. They think that immigrants are violent. You can find different personalities among immigrants. Most of them are good people. But Greek think that people who live in other country have not learnt anything except violence. Their behavior bothers me. 

Just their behavior? What’s about other things?
Facilities. As you know. What I’m worried about it is a place for children to play. They don’t have any place to play. There is nothing. Some people are really noisy. They bother others. A few days ago, there was a fight with knives which was dangerous. You are concerned about your family in terms of security. These are our problem. For instance, when you want to go to the doctor. I had toothache and that was awful. When I went to visit the doctor, they didn’t do anything, even a simple pill. They asked me to stay for a couple of weeks, then they sent me to the hospital. I had to use the painkiller for two weeks. Medicine service is really unsuitable here. 

What is your feeling about living here? In Europe.
He laughs. I’ve tried to be independent. Most people have to. You should start from scratch. Trying hard. You should be able to support yourself and your family. 

You said that Europe makes you feel homesick.
Yeah, that’s a beginning. Every person who lives in somewhere has some friends and relatives. For example, when you were raised in Afghanistan, you certainly have some relatives about 50 or 60 individuals. We don’t have anyone here. No cousins…. When we were in our country, we were about 70 or 80 people at a party. We don’t have anyone here. It’s hard. No wedding ceremony, no happiness, not even our religious events. If we were in our country, we would gather by any excuse. I miss my mom and dad. It feels to cry, but there is no choice. 

What is the effect of this feeling on you?
When I was alone, I’ve been thinking about it sometimes. But I want to support my family. So, I don’t intend to show my depression. In some occasions, I try to sit and smoke to dedicate myself with the situation. When I am with my family, I can deal with it. However, we’ve grown up, it is still hard to stop crying

Have you ever imagined yourself in this situation?
Not at all.

What can you see in yourself to get through this?
I think that every person who is in a hard situation, try to dedicate him/herself. We try as well. We know that we can deal with it. We have to. There is a responsibility to take care of your family. 

Because of family?
Yes, for sure. Because of our little children. Because of my wife. We must take care of each other and stay together. I’ve told you that we grew up in Iran and we didn’t live in Afghanistan. We were deported because of residence card problem. Finally, our identity card got expired and we couldn’t live there anymore. On the other hand, my wife was a student at university and she could receive a passport. We went to Afghanistan. After a while, when we decided to go to Iran, we faced a problem. She could go back to Iran because she had her passport. But I didn’t have my card because it was expired. She went to Iran and I had to stay in Afghanistan for a while. I had to pass Iranian border illegally. I had 6 months to renew my card, but I lost it. We were deported to Afghanistan several times in the next years. We had to stay there for four or five months, and she had to transfer money to us.

Let’s talk about now. Do think you can tolerate this situation now or you had a worse situation before and now is not really difficult?
I’m not really sure, we didn’t have it before. We are under mental pressure. We can tolerate the other things like entertainment and facilities. We might get through it, we can. 

Do you mean that you can deal with this situation?
Yes, if it takes a short time. There would be hope if we knew that we can settle somewhere and our children’s future would be good. 

What is the effect of Coronavirus pandemic in your routine life and your mental condition?
At first, we’ve checked all news, about the statistic and situation of each country on Facebook. We were upset. That was a bad feeling about the dead people. You feel sad because of mankind. In the personal aspect, we try to be careful about our health. I hope we can pass this condition. 

What is its impact on your mental condition?
We’ve been told about the disease and we have a lot of information. And you can follow news by using Facebook. We try to pay attention to our hygiene and control it. It will be ok. 

Why did you leave your country?
I’ve told you briefly. But it is a long story. Do you have time? It will take about 15 minutes to tell you why. 

It is ok.
I told you that my wife was a student. She studied psychology. The first year we didn’t have any problem. We could stay in Iran with our identity cards. The next year, Afghans faced a new official regulation. Refugees’ laws are changed each year in Iran. The university asked us to get a passport because each student must have a passport. They had to replace their card with a new passport. She had to go to Afghanistan to get the passport. Since we were not raised in Afghanistan and we didn’t know anything about there, I had to go with her. When we got there, I had to surrender my card. My wife could get her passport after health checks, and she went back to Iran. I couldn’t go with her because I didn’t have any documents to allow me to go to Iran. I passed the border illegally and couldn’t extend my card on time. We were nervous until we were arrested. You know what the plan is after arresting Afghans. They deported us to Afghanistan. I went to Iran illegally and then I was deported again. My wife had to stay with my or her family for a while. When my daughter was born, I was in Afghanistan and I couldn’t be there. I was under pressure, so I decided to stay with my family anyway. I tried to escape and lived in shadow. The last time, everything got worse. I didn’t have an identity card and my wife graduated from the university. She faced problem to continue her study and she was not allowed to work in Iran. Afghans cannot work in Iran and it is really difficult. Also, we faced trouble with the university. As a result, we had to go back to Afghanistan. We consulted with my family and decided to leave Iran. We couldn’t afford the cost of staying in Iran. Each time that we were deported, we had to borrow money. I borrowed money from my brother or my cousin. The situation was difficult, then we decided to leave the country permanently. When you have a family, you must be there for them, no matter what. I didn’t have an appropriate job and no money. We went to Turkey and stayed there for a while. Then we left there to Greece. We were on Lesbos island for 7 months, and then came here. It will be one year in a couple of days. I think we came here at the same time as you did.  

When you decided to go to Turkey and Greece, you had a chance to go to Afghanistan.
That’s a good point. Before we wanted to come here, we consulted with the family to go Afghanistan. It is our country anyway. The last time we went to Sar-e pol city, near Mazar, to find somewhere to live and work. We grew up in Tehran, the issues would be forgotten after a while. My wife said that she studied in Iran, but she cannot work. If you can find a job in Afghanistan, we will live with you there. We stayed there for several months and I was looking for a job. That was possible to find a good place to live. However, we borrowed money from relatives. There is a town, near Sar-e pol, named Mirza Malang. When I was deported … when was it? …. Mirza Malang fell and a war started. We have a relative there and he died in the war. His name was Idar. He had many kids. I escaped and went to Kabul when the war started. He was about 60 years. The number of deaths was huge. Women escaped at night. There was no security. The Hazaras… (laughed… you are the Hazaras). But it was difficult. We thought that we can do something. There was a deal between me and Idar to start a new job. But when we settled, he was killed and the war started. My cousin who never left the country before, had to escape. Iran had its problems. We couldn’t afford to live in Kabul. We were in a motel. A boy warned me to be careful. I was scared about what it could mean. He was right. You might be stabbed on the streets because most people are extremely biased about their religion and their ethnicity. You might be in the streets when a bomb blasts. You are familiar with it. I didn’t feel secure in Kabul and I didn’t know them. We didn’t also know about Mazar Sharif or Sar- e pol, although we were born there. We had to stay there because my family had a house there. But we couldn’t deal with it. People who lived there didn’t care about bombs or seeing someone being killed. They were happy and that wasn’t unusual to them. We found it hard to live in this situation. 

When you decided to leave Iran and your family and memories, you had a feeling. What was that?
I cannot explain it. It means that I tried not to show it in my face. I didn’t want my mother to see my tears. That was tough. My mother and father passed away after a while. Most of my relatives live in Iran. That was a difficult moment to say goodbye. I found it hard to think that it is possible to reach your destination. Before we were deported, everything was normal. I had a good job. I worked as a goldsmith. I had no problem. There was discrimination. Iranians call us Afghani to humiliate us. But we tolerated it because we were raised there. However, the situation got worse because of the cards. 

How was your trip to Europe? Is there any special event that you want to tell?
It was like a movie. When we crossed the border to go to Turkey. As you know, the dormitory conditions were not really difficult. But we faced trouble two times.  When we crossed the border to go to Turkey at night, I’m not sure that it was 11 or 12 o’clock. The weather was cold. Trafficker disembarked us in the woods and said go straight. It was dark, and we had a big backpack. I embraced my kid and held my daughter’s hand. My wife was also coming after us. We reached a lake which was full of thistles. Traffickers pulled us with a rope across the lake. We crossed the lake and sat to get dry. After a while, traffickers said that you have to get into the water. I was worried because of a big backpack and my kids. I had to carry my wife’s bag to cross the water. Because it was hard for her to do without my help. When we went to the lake, I slipped and we got wet. Water was also dirty. We were trembling. That night was horrible. On the other hand, my daughter was crying and she felt cold. Traffickers told us if you do not move now, you won’t be able to get to the road and we won’t stay for you. I was crying because of that situation. Our clothes were wet till the morning. There was a single man who carried just a backpack. But he was crying because of the condition. I was worried as my daughter was crying. I tried to dry her clothes. We had a terrible night and we must have stayed until morning to get in a car. I just wanted to find a warm place for my children. After a while, a van appeared, but it was full of people and left. There were a huge number of individuals. Another van showed up again and we could get in which was called Dolmoush in Turkish. We sat in the van like sheep and our clothes were dirty and stinky. After a while, the driver stopped the van and said that he would be back one hour later. We stayed in the van for a couple of hours. Then he appeared and took us to the dormitories.  You know about dormitory. There were some passengers. The place smelled bad and it was dirty. We stayed there and then left the dormitory to go to Ankara. After 3 or 4 days, the traffickers picked us with a bus. About 100 individuals got into it! Each seat belonged to more than 3 individuals. My brother-in-law has a son who is about 13 or 14 years old, 12 or 13 years old. He couldn’t breathe because of the pressure of population. We couldn’t move it to take fresh air. There was a young person, God bless him, he put his son on his shoulders to keep him close to the window. Otherwise, he could die. One hundred people on a bus! They dropped us in a location. They said to go across the road to get in another car. We were there and stayed for a couple of hours and we thought we cannot do anything. No one could speak Turkish. We didn’t know what we should say if we need water. We went to a petrol station. We had Turkish currency. So, we bought some Turkish soup to feed our children. After shopping, people asked what we should do now. We were exhausted and then chose a path to go. We intended to find a place before the night. We were in our way when we saw the police. We thought that we are going to be deported again. The police arrested us and transferred to a place which was like a prison. The good point was that each family could stay in a room which had a bathroom. They called us for dinner, but we were not allowed to go out. We were allowed to smoke, but we could smoke just 3 cigarettes in a day. We could smoke in a specific time such as 9 AM, 4 PM and 10 PM. We had 5 minutes to smoke each time. It was a prison. It took about one week and then we came to Greece. 

Do you often think about that situation now?
Sometimes we have a little chat about it with our friends. When we went into the water it was really difficult. Worse than it was when we wanted to go to Lesbos. We saw death before our eyes. Do you want to hear that?

It’s ok.
That night when they wanted to move us to Çanakkale, they intended to do “game”. (It is a term to cross borders). There were a lot of trees. They said you had to stay in the forest to see the boat. There was my family, my brother-in-law and his family and some families who we knew from the dormitory. They were from other countries. One family were from Tajikistan. Some of them came from Herat, but we didn’t know others. There were about 40 of us. At 10 PM, we took a taxi and went to a place. The traffickers warned us to keep quiet to pass the forest. We had to keep our kids silent. It was about 11 PM that they asked us to fill up the boat with gas. It was freezing cold. It was windy and rain started. We were chilled to the bone and scared. The sea was wavy. My cousin was scared too but he didn’t tell anything. I consulted my family, but they agreed to keep going. Traffickers told us to launch the boat. It was an agreement to each family sit in a specific place. People were noisy and the capacity of the boat was about 30 people. But there were about 40 individuals. Someone shouted that who the captain is? Where is he? The captain was looking for his son. The boat was tiny and full of bags. His son was under pressure because of the population. He was screaming. On the other hand, my brother-in-law’s son, Sajad, was looking for his brother, Amirali. He didn’t answer. We were scared. After a while, he shouted that I am here. We told the traffickers that we cannot move in this weather. But they said we have to. Someone switched on the boat and we went to the sea. The weather was windy and we were stuck in the waves. The boat was turned around. We shouted that what is happening. The captain said that I cannot do anything because of waves. He turned the boat in the right way and said that the lights over there are the sign of Greece. It would take 10 minutes. Water penetrated the boat. I shouted that we should go back to the first place. Some people agreed with me, but someone told me that I have to go tonight because I don’t have money anymore. Indeed, that was his fifth game. He was right, but I told him that if we stay here, we will die. We didn’t have anything to empty water. Finally, we came back to first place. Traffickers started shouting to say why we returned. I said that it was possible to sink in the sea. They said come on, move. Twenty-five individuals left us by boat. Some families gathered to consult and said that if we stay here tonight, it will be a disaster. It was the sixth game that they couldn’t leave Turkey. Traffickers were nagging and then abandoned us. They took $700 in cash because we had no time to put the money in an exchange office. Most people had experienced it before, except me and my brother-in-law. We were in a terrible situation because of the freezing weather and staying at night in the forest with our families. We called my trafficker named Erfan. He said that the police are after us and then they will come to take you. Do not worry. I said that we stayed here with our families. How can we be calm? After a couple of hours, he came and took us to the dormitory by a taxi. If he didn’t come, we had no chance that night. As they took our money, we had no money. Even we had no chance to go to Turkey. We settled there for 5 days. We met with new families. Someone told us that I used to sail when I was in Iran and I can lead the boat. He said that I just need someone to help me and sit in the middle of the boat to lead me. If the sea is calm, we will pass it without a problem. We were scared that night because of the sea condition. When the boat was full of water, I couldn’t even talk to my family. We were crying and we were not able to do anything. My wife couldn’t swim and I wasn’t able to choose which one of them to rescue. My wife? My children? I was able to swim and rescue myself. When he said that he can lead the boat, I was praying all the time. After five or six days, we did the game again. This time the boat was bigger than before. We could settle easily. First, we let women and children sit and then men sat around them. Even singles accepted to co-operate. We made it easier, but we were praying during the sailing. The sea was angry, but it was not the same. These two memories (that night in turkey and passing the sea) are unforgettable. It was difficult to choose someone to rescue. Are you married? You are single. I hope you get married. Taking care of your family would be difficult. You might choose to sacrifice yourself. I decided to do it that night. I said I will do it, but God, please save my family. When we came here, we heard about someone. He was called Mohamad Hossein and had a twin. When we arrived here, they tried to come here. They faced the same problem, but he couldn’t get through it and unfortunately, he sank with two kids. His wife is still alive, but she isn’t well. It is difficult. We were not well for several weeks because we knew him. If God didn’t help us and I didn’t insist, we would die that night. Traffickers got mad at us and they wanted us to leave. They do not care about others. They just love money. I found it extremely hard. May I smoke? 

It’s ok.
You are a sportsman. So do I, but I smoke more in these days. I just want to relax by smoking. It is bad, but we have no choice. I smoke at home because my children are not here. However, I am not allowed to smoke here. 

According to your story, what is your feeling, if you want to explain it with a specific word?
Loneliness. Because I am neither Afghan nor Iranian. Neither in Iran nor in Afghanistan I can live. It is loneliness. I just wanted to be with my family. This is my right. A person who gets married wants to be with his/her family. However, I wasn’t able to be with them. 

Have these events affected your everyday life?
When new families come here, I feel sad. I just want to talk to them and sympathize. I want to help them because I am familiar with their situation. It is not possible to help them, even by talking. Some people suffered badly. They remember me the previous days. Those who have not experienced it might sympathize, but they cannot understand us completely. But we can understand them although they are strangers. No matter Afghans or Africans, we talked to an African in English. When he told his story, we were just crying. It is difficult. 

Have you ever imagined this situation?
Never. A situation that you have to fight for your life and want God to save your family? Or you have to choose between your daughter or your wife. No one can imagine it. My wife had nightmares for a while. It is hard. She expected a baby. God saved us. Now Mohamad, our son, is one-year-old. She was pregnant at that time. 

You are right. That was difficult. Do have any plan to forget about it? Or deal with it?
Forgetting…. It might be with me, in my mind. When you think about your children’s future. Parents can understand it. I had terrible conditions, but I don’t want my kids to live like that. I hope they live in a secure world. If these difficulties happened in their lives, I would be depressed. I hope they live peacefully.

Do you have a plan to deal with it by yourself?
My wife and I participate in a language course and sometimes go for a walk. We do not have access to anything. Playing football is difficult here, but we gather to talk. There is nothing except learning a foreign language. Do you have anything to suggest?

Do have any abilities to deal with it?
We are a family. I want to be a good supporter of them. I can feel it in myself. Sometimes my wife gets depressed, I try to talk to her. Giving hope to her by making a joke. It is difficult. Women cannot tolerate as men do. She is really talented but she couldn’t continue her study because of our problems. If she goes to university, it is really possible to get through our problems. About 80 per cent! I aim to see her as a PhD candidate to reach to her goals. She would be able to reach her goal, even with these troubles. But this situation won’t help her, because it is tough. She tries to keep herself busy by learning a new language. It is a good motivation to help her get through it. If we get depressed, no one can give hope to our children. 

What was your wish for the future when you haven’t decided to move away? Briefly please.
Briefly. A job in a calm place. I was a goldsmith. Although it was not my dream, I worked hard. I did everything there like accounting and repairing. I just wanted to have a personal place to work and my wife continue her study. These were my requirements of the Iranian government. 

What was your desire when you arrived in Europe?
We hoped to stay together as a family. She aimed to go to university. I’ve never studied, but I hoped she do it. She had rough situations to graduate from university. You know that graduating from university might be difficult in Iran. I’d like to see her at university and I have a job as a goldsmith or a driver. Living with peace and security with my family.  

What were your abilities when you lived in Iran? In your job. Something like sport.
I was good at sports as well as my job. I was a master as a goldsmith. Driving …. I can handle it. 

Do you have them with you now?
Yes, of course. Give me a place to work. For example, young children who live here need to be educated. I educated them for a month. They had improvement. However, there was no place to make them as a team. If you want to do exercise, you have to have facilities like gloves or suitable pants. They have no suitable clothes to workout. They were motivated and liked me to teach them. I could inlay for ten years. We are under pressure even in our social relationships. I had a characteristic to consult with others to have their opinions. I was familiar with a lot of people. We could make a call to have a meeting and discuss. 

Do you think these events were negative or they had something positive?
You cannot take them as a lesson. What’s the point in these dangerous situations? These would be difficult when you lose yourself like some people that get depressed and disappoint their family. So, who can they rely on? Even when they are strong, some people become alcoholic. What’s the point? They and their families live in misery. They couldn’t tolerate the pressure and did nothing. We had Wi-Fi before. We don’t have it now. Such misery! But I try to keep myself busy. When we had no TV, we watched a movie together on our mobile phone. They should do something like it. They have to take care of their families. They do nothing because of their past. No move, not learning a language. They keep themselves busy by drinking. It is because they want to forget everything. I try to talk to them, but they want to be happy with drinking.   

What is your experience? Because you said that there is no experience in it.
I know that people can do anything in hard conditions. I try not to do the same as people who failed. Like drinking. I try to think positively. We don’t have Wi-Fi now. But we do something like watching movies, learning a language, or chatting with our friends. We do not have a tool to do a team work like gardening. We must entertain ourselves. There is nothing here to entertain.

What is your purpose for the future right now?
We need to settle in a country. Stay together, not separated. I want to be together in a secure place. My children would go to school and my wife reaches her goal. This the most important wishes. 

As the last question. Do have any messages to tell the public to understand the immigrants’ situation.
To people who live in peace? 

Like European.
They have to be grateful for their countries. For example, for the support from their governments. Know that it is valuable and their security depends on it. Most immigrants regret that they don’t have security. They don’t have a job. Europeans have to appreciate their peace. 

How do European treat with immigrants?
Greeks are not comparable with Iranians. Greeks are better. They can give A in their behaviors. But Iranian are not good at all. They didn’t treat us as human beings. I don’t intend to talk about Iran and my experiences. It makes me nervous. However, the Greeks are good. Some people are not good and they misunderstand us. They think we are not civilized because we lived in a war-ridden country. Our problem in Afghanistan was lack of security. 

Has the government ever supported you?
Not at all. Imagine that you need a medical service and you cannot do anything. There is nothing out there for you. Everything is dirty in the winter. You can deal with it, but there is no security out. Everywhere you see war in Afghanistan, Kurdistan. Zero security. I don’t know about other places, but Moriah is not suitable for refugees. It is horrible. This place is better than Moriah, but there is no service. I had a problem a couple of weeks. At first, they gave me hope to solve it, but they rejected my request after a while and told me that it is none of our business. You earn money to provide your requests. I have to borrow money to buy my kid diapers. I have to spend all of my pension to pay my loan. No entertainment, no good meal, no facilities, no Internet. We had a bus which they took it from us. It is possible to lose our place. Our oven and bathroom broke. No one cares about us. Some families have to live together. It is hard. It is like a prison.  

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.