About Refugees, By Refugees


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When I left my country my dream was to be who I wanted to be,” recalls Sanem X (27), a refugee in Germany. She says she left her home in Turkey because “I wanted to say what I wanted to say,” and “go to the street” and protest. But Sanem feared that doing so would have her “getting killed or getting prisoned.” She says the experience made her “feel that I was suffocating.” She also says, referring to Turkey, that “to be a person as a female in that country is really tough.” Conversely, living in Germany has allowed her to “speak up my mind.” And she likes “being female and being free.” But the experience has had challenges too. “In the beginning I felt quite alone,” and “that was also tough for me – like being away from my family, my home, because I have a really close connection with my family.” Now, Sanem doesn’t think much about the past, instead living “more in the moment,” but feels she is “a stronger person because all these bad experiences.”

Trigger Warning:

full interview

So what kind of housing do you live in?
I live in a community right now.

Can you describe the conditions of it?
The conditions I can tell are really good, actually, if we consider that um what we need to pay there as renters and like we actually have everything there. And I actually enjoy living there. Also, the people who I live with, they’re quite open-minded and politically active, which also makes me feel good.

Mhhm Perfect. And how do you spend your time in general?
In general, I have to admit that I don’t have any hobbies right now because I have to cope with the system here that I live with. I live with a student visa and I don’t have a Stipendium (financial support/scholarship) because I don’t get Stipendium by being a foreigner. And therefore I have to work at the same time. And I work in a stupid capitalist company where I need to get a bit better paid. That takes a lot of time. And also studying takes a lot of time because my studies in German and my German skills are not good enough to cope with it in a short time. So I have to study double. I study for sometimes in English and then in German again, which also takes quite a lot of time. And I’ve been studying for almost three and a half years already and I want to be done with it. Therefore, like I just study and work and study and work. So I don’t really generally have hobbies or something that can make me feel a bit more satisfied in my free time.

And is it easy to find work for you?
For me, yes, because the study field that I am studying is something that the government is having hard time to find employees. I am working in IT sector, which there is a huge gap, and therefore it makes it super easy for even the foreigners to find a job in the sector. And they’re also easing the situation for a person who is searching for a job in that sector.

So for me, yes.

OK, and what are some of those things that bring you joy in life?
Mmm. Here in Germany, you mean bringing joy?

I really love to be able to speak up my mind whenever I want to. I enjoy being able to go to demonstrations without thinking, oh, I’m going to get attacked by the police or I’m going to get under custody or whatever I really enjoy like being able to say whatever I want to say. Even though I’m a foreigner. I enjoy spending time with the people who are open minded to people with migration background. It’s really nice to be able to exchange the culture that I grew up in, the politics that I grew up in as well, and things like that.

Mhhm and how your life has been since you arrived in Europe?
The first one and a half years I actually had quite hard time because of visa situation, all the bureaucracy, umm but I still did not want to go back because I always felt I’m more free here and I can at some point do whatever I want if I play the rules and I feel quite OK to be here, even though there are so many struggles, because living in the country that I came from was a bit too much at the end. And therefore there was always this motivation to like, OK, I will try to break this fucking bureaycracy and stay here somehow. Although it was too much, I was fine with it.

And what has been good about being here.
As what has been good, was mostly being a female person and still being able to go out to a street at two a.m. in the morning and wear whatever the fuck you want and not get harassed that or even if you get somehow harassed, that you are still capable of screaming at the person or, I don’t know, kind of search for your right as a female body and do not get beaten up in the end or do not get killed or raped or end up really bad conditions. Yeah mostly being female and being free.

Mhhm and what has been difficult?
Finding my own identity here in Germany was quite difficult because one and a half years, the first one and a half years when I was fighting with the bureaucracy, I always felt like, OK, you’re something that we don’t want here. And we are trying to figure out how to send you back. And you have to prove that you were valuable enough to stay in that country. That was tough. I had hard time to identify myself as a valuable person and just not being criticized by being foreigner and trying to sneak into the country.

Yeah, and can you describe how living here has made you feel in general?
I had different phases. To be honest, in the beginning I felt quite alone. At some point I missed my own circle where I came from, and I missed the language that I was speaking every day, my mother tongue, because also here in Germany, I come from Turkey and and the Turkish community here is a bit tough for me because they’re a bit more conservative than the real people who live in Turkey right now. And that makes everything harder to be able to communicate with those people, which made me feel quite alone for some time. Also not being able to speak German for a long time. And people in my daily life refused to speak English or not, maybe refused, but feeling lazy or not feeling confident enough to speak in English, that made me feel like a bit maybe unwanted.

Hmm. Yeah. And, um, how does being away from the rest of your family, from your home make you feel?
That was also tough for me, like being away from my family, my home, because I have a really close connection with my family and I tried my best to go there as often as possible. It was also the very first time of my life that I was far away from the country that I was living in. Also, like even I didn’t even change my city from where my parents lived until I came to Germany. And I was feeling a bit sad. I sometimes felt, but I actually left them behind at some point because the conditions back there are the conditions that I refused to be in. And I don’t want them also to live in these conditions. And being here far away from them and searching for better conditions sometimes felt like I left them behind. And that was a bit tough.

Mhhm And do you feel not belonging here or?
Not belonging here? Not anymore. I can tell, like before in the first two years also maybe because of my visa situation that I didn’t know if I’m staying or if I have to go back. And like this adaptation time was actually a bit wrecked by the bureaucracy itself. So I could never feel like, OK, I’m staying here in this country from this moment to whatever I want to go back. And not being able to feel bad by by the system itself, made this adaptation time quite longer. And in this two years of phase, I really didn’t feel that I belonged here or belong anywhere else. Also like to the country that I came from because I didn’t want to go back there. But after getting the study visa and like knowing, OK, I got another visa for two years at least, even the two years of a visa actually made me already feel like, OK, I belong to this place, at least for another two years, and now I can adapt myself to the culture and the situation and the language, everything that was easier than before. Now I feel more belong to this place.

Ok And do you face discrimination? If so how does it affect you? How do you feel?
I faced discrimination and it is maybe not for a lot of people, they would not even realize that it’s discrimination, which makes me feel annoyed. I hate to hear when I speak German or even if I’m not speaking German, the person next to me is speaking English and they ask me, oh, OK, where do you come from or where do you come from ursprünglich (originally) they ask. And that drives me crazy. Like, why do you ask me that? Where do you come from? Actually, like, are you really German? It doesn’t matter where you grew up or whatever you do in the country. You I am here and I don’t understand why you ask me that question. You can formulate it in a better way. And this kind of discrimination makes me really annoyed and it makes me even more annoyed when I hear it from a bit more political people and a bit more umm conscious people. And yeah, I try to explain them if it feels like it’s worth it. But sometimes I just try to avoid these kind of questions and I tell ya, OK, whatever.

Mhhm And could you ever have imagined that you would have been able to handle this situation like what you have been through in the beginning of this two years, like you went through, like I don’t know you said, being feeling alone, not belonging and trying to find a way to stay and so on and before. Could you have imagined that you would handle this situation?
I could not imagine to be able to handle the situation honestly back then, because it was always too complicated to believe also in the people who were surrounding me. I think it’s also a bit about my culture. Where I come from is a bit more emotional somehow, and it’s easier to connect with people, like easier to count on them somehow in a way that they kind of open their arms to you and they welcome you. But here the culture is a bit more different. You always have this, I don’t know, one step like back from the people always have to be a bit more careful that you don’t cross your boundaries. And like having this close connections are a bit different than what I thought to be. And therefore, I didn’t actually imagine to be handling the situation. But it turned out to be better the last year honestly.

And umm how have you been able to umm overcome, survive or live with it with this whole thing going on in your life, discrimination, and situation?
Did I overcome it? I, most of the time, if I face but discrimination, I I try to make the person who says this discriminative things be aware of that they are discriminating.  And if I see that they understand it already makes me feel good. But sometimes when I feel like okay this does not this will not work out, they will not understand. I just try to focus on future or or I try to figure out how to make it um more visible to the persons like those people to understand, hey, this is discrimination and you should not do it. I try to motivate myself by being bit more educating the people who do this kind of things. And that is already kind of a coping mechanism for me.

And do you think you developed that ability while you are dealing with these challenges here? Or did you always have this kind of mechanism?
Honestly, I had always this kind of mechanism because I am I come from Turkey and I am Kurdish. I got discriminated quite a lot also in Turkey. It’s so funny. Like even in Turkey, in the country that I grew up with, the language with the culture and everything there, I would be asked, OK, where you come from. Also, it is a stupid question in Turkey as well that people ask about the city where you come from all the time to be able to discriminate you a bit better. And so they would ask me, OK, where do you come from? I would say Istanbul, because I grew up there. I was born there. And there was like, no, no, where do you really come from? And then I would tell that my father is coming from east side of Turkey and I’m Kurdish. And the reaction that I would face would be, oh, but you speak very well, Turkish.  And I already like developed this kind of mechanisms like, oh, yeah, but you also speak very well, Turkish, good for you. Or just try to like, make the situation a bit funnier and try to make the person understand, like, OK, this is a stupid question you ask me. So I already had this kind of mechanism thanks to the culture discrimination culture in Turkey.

OK, um, the last question about your current situation is how has covid-19 affected your life, your well-being, your feelings?
Covid-19, in a funny way, did not affect me so badly because being away from my friends and my family for three and a half years, I already learned how to communicate with them via digital platforms and I was already trained by it. So when I came here for the first time, I always had my phone in my hand and talking to them via video calls and so on. So I was already ready for this Covid situation. So I didn’t also living in a big community. Right now, it also doesn’t really feel like I’m isolated or alone, so covid did not honestly affected me badly.

Okay now, umm, I will ask a couple of questions about your past. If you are ready. Um, why did you leave your country?
Why did I leave my country? If I would sum up the two categories, one is I could not feel free as a political person anymore. When I started to study at the university, it was already the times where Gezi occupation started to happen and we were able to still go out to the streets and tell whatever we wanted to say and and be against whatever we wanted to be against to. And for one year it was still possible to do that after Gezi everything went down so accelerated, go down like hardcore. And the pressure and isolation and fear grew up super fastly. And I couldn’t handle that anymore because I wanted to be who I wanted to be. And I wanted to say what I wanted to say. And that already made me feel really imprisoned somehow. So many bad things happened politically. There are so many bombs explode, so many friends we lost. And not being able to go to the street and say, hey, you did this and you have to pay for it by not being feared getting killed or getting prisoned. It already made me feel that I was suffocating. And the other thing is being a female and wanting to be a person as a female in that country is really tough. Also in the like, I am the group, the eldest in my family and we have two children of my parents. I am the eldest girl. And then there’s my sister and I was grew up to be a pretty little girl who listens to her parents all the time and being controlled by them and not doing crazy things, you know. And when I wanted to go at out in the middle of the night, we would always have to fight with my parents or when I wanted to move out from my parent’s apartment. Because in Turkey there’s this culture. You can only move out as a female person if you got married to some guy. And I refused all of these norms and I’m refusing all of these were already big conflict between my family and I. And I still love my family. But it was also a bit tough to say, OK, you have to take me as a person. I’m not a girl, I’m not a little girl. And I can do whatever I want to. And I don’t have to be a boy of yours to be able to do whatever I want. And that was already a big fight. And also in daily life, being a female in that country every single day, women violence is going increasing hard core. And, you know, you feel scared when you’re walking alone in the street, in the dark. And there are so many cases that I was followed. I was harassed and I didn’t know how to cope with it, but I still wanted to be outside and I also couldn’t handle that anymore.

And how was your journey to Europe?
My journey to Europe was actually supposed to be only for six months. I was an exchange student. It was planned to be for six months. I’d go back to Turkey because also I actually wanted to go out from Turkey for a really long time. But my family’s financial situation and my own financial situation would never enable me to go to another country and live there. So I used this little sneaky way of like being Erasmus and then coming to another country. Then I also found tiny little other sneaky ways to stay here. So it was actually in my head, already planned, I played quite strategically to to stay here, but I did never, ever know if it would work out or not. So it was kind of luck we can say.

Right. Is there any kind of experience that particularly was difficult for you in the past?
In the past in Turkey? I mean, a couple of more. Like I had some relationships like heterosexual relationships that wouldnt I was pressured and degraded by the person who I was dating with. Like a stereotype of men in Turkey is horrible. And they are not ready to accept a female person being on her own feet and being able to say no to whatever they don’t want to do or to to experience stereotype of men are not ready to see that woman can just survive alone. And these kind of experiences were already pushing me quite to the edge. I was going almost crazy. And also a couple of other things which. Yeah. Which I would pass now.

OK, how do you feel now when you think of those things happened in your past?
How I feel now. I am a person who can easily erase this kind of traumatic experiences. I don’t know why. It’s also maybe some kind of coping mechanism. Sometimes when I think about my past life in Turkey, it feels like it’s a movie that I watched before and it was horrible. But I don’t have such an emotional connection with that anymore. I’m mostly focusing on my present time here and my future here.

And do you think often about your past?
I do not think often about my past. Honestly, I’m more in the moment.

And do you think the situation you faced before affects your character for today?
Of course, like the experiences before, affected my character in a really big aspect, like they made me who I am right now. I think I am a stronger person because all these bad experiences.

Do you think you I mean, could have imagined that you could have been going through those and handling those not now you’re here and now free, you feel free at least. Or not “you are free” but “feeling free” at least, compared to your “now” situation, when you think of your past, it’s like another way of his question. Could you have imagined that you could handle the situations?
If I was still in that place. Mhm. Sometimes I think about it honestly and sometimes I feel that I could end up with some mental issues even, but sometimes I also think hey, you grew up in that shit situations and you would definitely build more coping mechanism about these. But I think being away from it and thinking about it is more making me more thinking about no, you couldn’t handle it, but I think it would be totally different if I was still in that situation because I could handle it for twenty five years already. So. Yeah.

When you left your country, did you have a dream? What was your dream?
When I left my country my dream was to be who I wanted to be because I had so many different roles exposed to me from other variables like from my family, from the society, from institutions, from everything that I didn’t want to be. I wanted to be like my dream was to be being away from them and not being responsible to be those things. And I think I actually reached that. Now, I don’t feel responsible of any kind of roles that they want me to be in anymore.

Now, I will ask a couple of questions, wrap up questions. And before leaving your home country, what would you describe as your strengths and have you maintain those strengths?
My strengths when I was living in Turkey, I think not giving up on being rebellious, I did not say, OK, now I will do whatever you want because I cannot cope with it. I always said, no, this is my right. This is what I think that it is supposed to be. And I will do it in the way that I want to do. I think that actually also brought me here. I think if I not if if I couldn’t have the strength all the way, then I would not be here right now as well, because that strength also kept me here.

And, um, what you have been through seems really difficult. So, um, do you feel like you have grown in any way out of this whole experiences?
I think I grew a lot. I also started to… I always thought I could think critically also in Turkey, but then I realized living here in Germany, I could think critically in Turkey in the bubble, because you already know what is happening in there and you already can foresee what will happen in the future. And it is easy to bring criticism in these kind of situations where you already grew up in, but then coming here and learning a new culture and new language and new system, then I think I grew up kind of a different way of criticizing things. And also I think I can now identify myself a bit better. And I would count this also as growing up.

And what are your hopes and dreams for the future now?
My hopes and dreams for the future. Now, I am still highly dependent on the system like bureaucratic system and this stupid IT sector, which will bring me the freedom to be able to stay here as much as I want to. And my dream is to be away from it like I don’t want to work in the place that I’m working right now. I don’t want to work in the sector that I’m working right now. I hate dancing with the capitalists. And even though I’m I’m trying to show them around, like, this is not the way that it should be. Let’s please do this and this and that. Sometimes it’s too exhausting. The colleagues that I have, like most of them, are also expats coming from other countries. They’re also migration background. But they disappoint me even more than the people who live here, who were grown up here because they’re OK with everything that they’re facing with in this country, because they think all this time there’s all the conditions were so bad in their countries. They are OK to say yes to everything here. And that disappoints me a lot. I am trying to fight with it. I’m trying to tell them that, hey, you left your fucking country to have better conditions here and you do not mmm obliged to say yes to everything because you already left the place and you left because of this. And please say no if you don’t want to face with this kind of this and these people, this sector full with this people, it also suffocates me sometimes. And I want to be away from it. And my hope and my dream is to be really also free in a bureaucratic way that I can choose where I want to be.

And last question, thank you for answering all these questions, is there anything you would like to add that might help people in Europe better understand the life of people with immigration here?
Hmm. Yeah, I think I have this feeling that people who refuse migration background, people do not understand that the people did not want to leave our countries because Germany is the greatest or Europe is the best place to be. We left our countries because we couldn’t cope with these situations anymore. All the situations that I talked about, all the other migration people talked about, it was not our first choice to come to Europe and live here in a happy way. Just consider that we had to leave our countries even though we didn’t want to. And we are trying to adapt here. And you’re not making it easy for us by discriminating us. Just keep that in mind that people who came here did not do it because everything is fine here. And they have also struggles here and just try to make it easier for the people who are from. From other places.

Alright thanks a lot for answering the questions.

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.