About Refugees, By Refugees

Portrait of Setayesh Rezayi with her daughter

Setayesh Rezayi

Pictures taken in:



Photo and interview by:




Zahra Gardi

I was a tailor in Iran and I liked designing,” recalls Setayesh (26), who moved to Iran from Afghanistan for an arranged marriage. The marriage didn’t work and they divorced. After the separation she fled to Greece with her daughter: “Because of my safety I was forced to come here.” Her ex-husband was “threatening and harassing me,” she says. When looking back on the journey to Europe, Setayesh feels “Fear, fear, very much fear.” On her first attempt at crossing the Mediterranean, @Shysth9248 remembers, “we would have all sunk into the sea” if the captain hadn’t turned the boat around. Now, living in difficult conditions and apart from her family in a Greek refugee camp, she feels that she has “become broken” and “more depressed.” Nevertheless, she holds on to hope: “When I think about my future, I still have hope and tell myself that yes, now that I have come here, my hope is for myself and my daughter.”

Trigger Warning:

full interview

Hi, please introduce yourself; what is your name, your last name, your age and where are you from?
My name is Setayesh Rezayi. I am 26 years old. Umm… I am from Afghanistan. 

So, you said your name is Setayesh?
Yes, Setayesh.

Good, please tell me, Setayesh, in what kind of house do you live here and whom do you live with?
At first we were inside these big tents. We were inside the tents, and now I think they have transferred us inside big tents. They have put rooms inside them. Then . . . It has beds. It has a bed. Then, it is not very interesting, but the tents we used to live in previously were more uncomfortable. It is really difficult here and very noisy. For example, there is a lot of noise, it is dark and there is not enough space. We are around eight people inside one small room and there is no space for coming and going. The kids are not comfortable here. We even cannot cook properly; we make food with a lot of difficulties. We cannot easily go outside to wash dishes or something. It is very small and really difficult.

Will you tell me who lives here with you?
Here, inside the room? You mean?

Yes. So generally who is here with you from your family members?
Aha, family members . . . I have my daughter, and two sisters who are very far away from me. They are somewhere else.

So it is you and your daughter (here)?

Will you tell me how you spend your time here? What do you do from morning till night?
From morning till night . . . well . . . here . . .generally… I go to work. I have kept myself busy. I go to work, I am a volunteer. I am both a bathroom volunteer and work at the moment. Some days are my free days, which is when I do the house-chores. Chores like washing clothes, cooking and things like that.

What makes you happy? What things make you happy?

In general.
Do you mean generally or here? If I were to say happiness . . . like . . . going out, walking and taking care of myself. 

And how about here?
Here . . . the same things here, but now since I came here, I get more depressed every day. Everything that used to make me happy every day . . . doesn’t make me happy anymore. (Laughter).

Will you tell us how your life has been from the time you reached Europe? Does it have positive points or negative points, and why? Please tell us.
It has positive points but the negatives points are really . . . now I don’t know . . . I am here . . . and it has been one year and two months I am here, and I am still not sure. Then . . . the situation is really hard here inside the camp. It’s the pressure from the camp. But if I get into a better situation, it will be a lot better for me, both for my future and my daughter’s future. 

Will you tell us if living here has affected your emotions and feelings or not?
Like how?

For example, you said you have become more depressed here and you are getting more depressed each day.
Yes, it totally happens here.

What do you think the reason could be?
It’s both because of being apart from family and the pressures of the camp. It is about coming to a foreign country. You come to a foreign country and you are far from your family and live in difficulty. You don’t know what will happen. These are all pressures. It depresses me each day.

How has being far from your family and homeland been to you? Has it harmed you? Is there any positive point? Tell us how being far from your family has been so far? How do you cope with it?
How do I cope . . . well . . . It has been really hard. Now it has been in a way such that I get more depressed each day. This is how it is. 

So you were someone very dependent on your family?
Yes. I did not like being far from my family. I am getting depressed more and more and it is difficult, but when I think about my future, I still have hope and tell myself that yes, now that I have come here, my hope is for myself and my daughter. So all of this is my hope.

Can you tell me if you were ever thinking about being able to bear this situation here?
I had never thought about that. When I was coming here, I had never thought of coming to such a place.

What was your expectation about Europe? Were you thinking about what type of place it might be?
I was thinking that when we reached here, we would not remain inside this camp with this horrible situation for so long. I was thinking that we will stay here for only two or at most three months, and then will quickly go from here and arrive in the country. I did not think that I would stay here for one year and two months and be living in a bad situation.

Tell me about the strengths that you gained during this trip. From the things you lost.
The things I lost . . . things I . . . did. (Laughter). Umm…

Did you gain any skill on the way that has been useful to you? Or did you lose anything?
Skill . . . well . . . now, for example, I rely more on myself. I have somehow . . . how should I say it . . . become more independent. It has become far better for me. I have become more independent. Because . . . this was my skill . . . and the things I lost are . . . well . . . my family and being far from my family. And somewhat I think I have become broken, and have the feeling I became more depressed. I have totally lost my hope here and I am . . . like . . . still uncertain.

Will you tell if coronavirus has affected your daily life, your emotional state and your personal matters or not?
Yes. It has had a hundred percent effect, for everyone. We are stuck inside the camp. When we were not quarantined we could easily go outside here and there, but now we are inside the camp and there is not enough space, as you can see how it is. We cannot easily go outside. It was better before and we could go outside the camp and our morale would change. But it has gotten harder now that we are stuck inside the camp. Now we have to wait till our turn comes before we can go out. It is not the way it used to be. It is a lot harder now.

Can you tell me what happened when you immigrated? What was the reason for your immigration?
Frankly, I didn’t like it at all, coming to Europe. I didn’t like it at all. I didn’t like their culture at all. Then something happened that forced me to come. Should I tell my feelings?

If you feel comfortable talking about it and if you think that it does not harm you, you can talk about it. However you like.
Yes, because I was separated from my ex-husband and an enmity appeared between us. Then they were disturbing me too much so I was obliged to come here. 

So you mean it was because of your safety that you were forced to come?
Yes, because of my safety I was forced to come here. 

Will you tell me what you were feeling at that time?

When you made this decision.
My feelings . . . I did not plan before, but I made this decision out of the blue. Because my sisters came here and I had that problem there. Before that, I was also not emotionally fine in Iran. I was experiencing a lot of pressure. Then . . . they were bothering me. My ex-husband. They were threatening and harassing me. That is why I was forced to make such a decision and come here. 

If you feel comfortable, can you tell me how you got introduced to your husband and what happened when you got divorced from him?
Umm . . . how we got introduced . . . it was traditional. They came to ask for my hand in marriage (through khastegari) and we accepted. We had no understanding between us, and had a lot of problems.

So you were forced to marry him, or not?
No it was not forced, but since we had a lot of problems with each other . . . then . . . it was . . . totally . . . umm . . . ah . . . he was not the right person. Then I decided to separate from him. I took my daughter from him because I had filed a complaint against him in Iran. I had filed a complaint against him and . . . because I had taken my daughter and done my divorce that way, it had caused a kind of hatred to grow inside him. That is why he was harassing me.

Was he your relative or a stranger?
No, he was a stranger. So for this reason, both my family and I thought it would be better that I come here. I was not comfortable there at all. Since I have come here, I am relaxed from that point of view, and if I can get into a better situation, it would be really good for me. That is how I feel. 

How was your journey to Europe? Did you experience anything on the way and is there any memory that was hard for you? Would you like to share with us? Would you like to tell others?
Memory . . . you mean bad memories?

No generally. Everything.
I didn’t have good memories at all. All of my memories were bad. It was very hard. (To the interviewer:) you know how it is, being in a tight space.

We made it in our third attempt. In our first attempt, we almost sank in the sea. Our boat had got a hole. That is why we returned and we all were wet. If our captain didn’t return the boat, we would have all sunk into the sea. Then we returned, all wet.

The second attempt was in Izmir. They wanted to send us from Izmir to Samos island. There, the police chased after us, and our car was close to falling down. There was a car in front of us and a car behind us. Some of us got injured. My leg was completely injured. And the smuggler, who was our driver, threw himself out of the car. One of our fellow refugees was sitting next to the smuggler, and if he didn’t press the brake, we would all be dead. We were about to die at the speed the smuggler was going at. Then he (the man next to the smuggler) pressed the brake, because there was a police car behind us. The smuggler’s car was smashed from the back and front. Then there, since we had small kids, they didn’t keep us in the camp. We were in Izmir police station during the night. Then they released us. They gave us our documents and released us. Then we came to Istanbul and Zeytinburnu. Then we passed in the third attempt. 

What were you feeling when you were inside that car and those incidents happened to you?
It was very hard. Our children . . . God knows . . . It was really hard for the children. It was hard for me too. Our children were somewhat . . . for some time . . . that night they couldn’t sleep easily. It was like . . . my own daughter was crying in her sleep. She was afraid. Even when we reached here and the days when we had newly arrived in the camp, for one month she would wake up during the nights and cry. She was crying so much and was scared, and the neighbors were all complaining. They would also come to ease her. It was really hard. Now she is a little bit calmer these nights. It was really difficult for her.

How often do you think of this trip? The incidents that you passed during your way? Did you come from the mountains or the sea on your way from Iran to Turkey?
We came from the mountains.

How was the mountainous route for you?
Aha, so you mean Turkey and . . .? We came via the mountains from Iran to Turkey. Then from Turkey to Greece, we came by sea. 

When they asked me this question I just remembered the night that was stormy and we prepared our boat. They separated the men to prepare the boat and told the women to wait. I still remember each and every moment of that incident and it still appears in front of my eyes like a movie. You have come this way and you know how hard it is. That was the hardest part for me because I didn’t have the experience of coming by sea and it was very horrible. I remember it moment by moment, the voices that I would hear, the smells that would come to my nose, the voices that I would hear, what we did and didn’t do. That moment is very vivid for me. And for you, which part of your journey is very . . . for example when you look back at that time, which scene mostly comes to your mind?
It was the worst scene. When we were sitting in Dolmosh, it was really difficult there. It was like the pressure of the grave. One was there, and the other part was (when we were) inside the boat. Inside the boat we had settled in, it was horrible there. I was feeling like my feet were cracking.

How many were there in Dolmosh?
It was like … you would feel like you could fall off the boat any moment. There were a lot of us. I swear to God I don’t know. I think there were more than 40 people.

Was anyone injured in that Dolmosh or not?
Injured . . . no . . . no one was injured. But the kids were crying a lot. It was very tight.

How often do you think about this memory of your trip?
How often . . . I don’t know this way. (Laughter)

When do you mostly remember them?
Mostly when I have a lot of pressure here. Then I think to myself to go and deport myself. But when . . . when I think about the difficult way I came, then I say no I’d better not. Why should you deport yourself when you have accepted all these difficulties to come here.

Then how do you feel at that time? When you are reviewing your memories? Fear, comfort, courage?
Fear, fear, very much fear.

The hardships you have overcome now, do you think they have affected your personality or not?
Yes. (kid talking)

Will you tell us how different the personality of the current Setayesh is from who she was before?
I have changed very much now. I had a lot of patience before, but I have become more sensitive now. I can get angry over small things. I think that once we are out of this place, I need to go and see a psychologist. I have changed a lot. I was patient before and I wouldn’t get upset at things people would tell me. Now even small things make me sad. I get sad and angry, and I need to eat something to make me calmer. I have changed to this. A tablet or medicine. When I get sad, I remain sad for many days and I just have to sleep. That is how it is. I feel my condition has gotten worse here. 

Would you think of being able to bear such a circumstance? To overcome?
I didn’t think I could.

What was your wish for your future before immigrating? Before becoming an immigrant?
My wish was to reach a country . . . continue my education, reach somewhere. I very much loved learning a new language. 

What was your childhood dream for your future?
My childhood dream for my future . . .

What you wished to become and who you wanted to be?
Who to become? What I love now . . . for example . . . I was a tailor in Iran and I liked designing. I wanted to become a designer once I came here. 

Do you like dress designing?
Yes, I like clothes designing.

Did you want to be an outfit designer right from your childhood?
No. In my childhood . . . for example . . . I wanted to become a reporter or a journalist or something. 

And now you would like to be an outfit designer?

Now my questions are finished. If you think, is there anything I didn’t ask about which is very important for you to let others know? Do you have anything to add, like advice, or anything you would like to share with others? People who do not know anything about immigration are going to read your story. They don’t know about the difficulties that immigrants experienced during their journey. If you have any request or anything that you would like them to do, you can share it with us here.
Aha … tt means I should say something like an informative point, you mean?

Whatever. Whatever you like. If it is about a part of your trip or a question that I didn’t ask. If there is anything that you would like to teach people and you think would be useful for them, you can share it. If you have any request from anyone, you can share it here.
I . . . ahhh . . . (talking to her daughter). For example, there are people who gamble their lives to come to Europe and other countries. They get separated from their lives and families. I say to those who have just a plan for foreign countries and Europe and ruin their lives: it is not worth it. Never do this. The value of being near your family is far more than coming to Europe, to such a place. 

Thanks for allocating your time. I am done with my 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.