About Refugees, By Refugees

Portrait of refugee Shakiba's side profile where she is wearing a mask

Shakiba Ghafory

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Photo and interview by:




Zahra Mojahed

“My dream was that my children could be successful and not be like me,” says Shakiba Ghafory (26), an Afghan mother of three, “If I could become someone in my childhood, I wouldn’t face these hardships now.” Shakiba fled Afghanistan in 2016 due to threats from the Taliban, and now lives in Greece, where life remains “very hard.” She divorced her husband in 2017, a decision she was afraid of making at the time, and now relies on a government stipend to support her family. Before marriage at age 12, Shakiba dreamt of studying: “When they made me marry… I didn’t know what a book and a pen were because I was not allowed to have them.” Since her divorce, she sees herself as “strong, not weak”. In the past, Shakiba says, she had “no permission to do anything,” but now she can do “anything I like to do.” She is currently studying, and hopes that one day her children can “make the best life for themselves,” and that she herself “can stand on my own feet”.

Trigger Warning:

full interview

Can you please introduce yourself?
I am Shakiba Ghafory from Afghanistan. I am 26 years old. It has been around six years that I have been living in Greece.

In which type of house do you live?
I … in 2016, when I came to Greece, I was with my husband. We got divorced in 2017 due to family issues. And, I have three children, two of them are boys and one is a girl. My older son is living with my husband, and I live alone with my other two kids. It has been almost three years since I have rented my own house. I spent one year… one year and six months in the camp, one year in a hostel and then I rented a house for myself. The government gives me 320 Euros each month out of which I pay 250 Euros for my house rent and just 70 Euros remain for me, and life is very hard for me here.

Did you say that you live with two of your children or one of them?
I live with two of my kids here now.

How do you spend your days? Do you go to work?
No, because my daughter is small, and I do not have time because my children go to school. That is why my language is not very good. That is why I couldn’t find a job.

What do you do every day at your home? Are you mostly busy with the kids or …?
I am mostly busy with the kids and then, when I have time, I study. I used to do courses previously but I do self-study now since everywhere got closed due to Corona.

What makes you enjoy your life and be happy?
My children’s happiness. For example, when my children are happy, that is everything to me.

Is your spouse in Greece or …?
Yes. Almost yes. My older son was with me two weeks ago for about two months. And he went back to his father two weeks ago. They live in Thiva in a camp that is almost one hour from Athens.

Does your son himself want to go or does your husband not let him live with you?
He likes it himself … kind of. He prefers to be with his father because he is fourteen years old and he is not too young.

How has been your life from the time you have come to Europe? What hardships did you have and what good things did it have for you?
From one perspective … it is good because they support women here. That is why I am happy. Because if I was in Afghanistan, I could not reach my goals and I would have to live like a slave forever. It has its own difficulties too. For example, I have a very hard time now. No one can handle two kids with the stipend that the Greece government gives me. But I try to, for example, persevere.

Can you tell us how it feels to live here?
Life is good… I have a good feeling in Greece but as I said before, it has its own difficulties. I get disturbed a little bit but I don’t show it because of my children and I don’t want them to see me sad. I am always sad inside because I really do not have a good life.

Did you ever think that you could do it, living in Greece alone with your two kids?
No, never. I never thought I could do it.

How could you cope with it?
I was threatened by my ex-husband … as I said before, he was trying to scare me somehow. For example, he was saying that now that you are getting divorced, will there be anyone to support you? Don’t even think about it. Or, for example, don’t get happy with the stipend that the UN is giving you because there are many hardships here. But I was trying to be the one that I wanted to be, not care about what people say. And I endured whatever hardship there was.

Do you think the problems that you have encountered have improved your skills and strengths or have helped you prove yourself?
From one perspective yes. For example, I am not the person I used to be before. I have changed a lot.

What type of changes? How have you changed from before?
For example, I was very cowardly before. I was somehow afraid. When I was thinking of getting divorced, I was afraid I might not be able to handle my children. I might be embarrassed in front of my children. But thank God it was not that way. And whoever sees me tells me that they are proud of me because no woman can handle her life alone here like you did and, on top of that, you have two kids with you.

How has Covid-19 affected your daily life, feelings and emotions?
Well the truth is corona brought a lot of hardships with itself. Children fell behind in school. I have fallen behind my studies. Whatever it is, when you have kids in the house, they interrupt you somehow. It is good for them to be at school. Also, I do not feel well emotionally and mentally. Because I am stressed all the time and I am worried a lot.

Worried about what?
Worried about the future, about my children.

I would like to ask some questions about the past now. Can you explain what were your reasons for leaving your country? What happened?
Yes. The reason I left my country is my sister’s husband was cooperating with the Taliban. He was trying to persuade my husband to join him. But my husband’s family and he himself did not want to go with him and help him. And that way, he threatened my husband two or three times and told him if you do not cooperate with me, I will harm you or your family. That is why we were forced to leave Afghanistan and come to Europe.

What was your feeling when this happened?
When I left Afghanistan?

No, when your husband was being threatened.
I was very much afraid because of my children. Because in Afghanistan, … you might know that it is very hard for a lonely woman. And think when I am a woman … I was a hundred percent sure if my husband did not go with him, he would be killed and I would experience more hardships, suppose with three kids.

How was your trip to Europe? Can you tell us about it and about your experiences? And did anything happen to you on your way?
Our trip to Europe it took us almost two months to come from Afghanistan to Greece. We were in motels all the time and we sometimes had to go back. We struggled with a lot of hardships. I would not even think my little daughter and little son would survive because it was freezing cold. That time when I was thinking ….. We were together with some of our close relatives. We came here by boat, and a child of our relatives got crushed aboard the boat and died. He was a six-year-old boy. We faced a lot of hardships.

Is the child alive?
No, no, he died. Someone sat on him on the boat and the poor child died. We really had a hard time on our way from Afghanistan to here. I wouldn’t expect to reach here.

What did you feel at that time?
Ummm …

When you were on your way.
When I was on my way … hmmm … look, there was both hope and despair. On the one hand, I was saying to myself that I can go. I can endure the trip. I have survived in much harder situations, this is nothing compared to those. On the other hand, when I was looking at my children, watching them fading, like being sick and freezing in cold, I would tell myself if anything happened to any of my children, then life would not have any meaning to me. But I survived.

Do you think of those days and what happened to you on your way here?
I can never forget them.

When do you think about them? Or what makes you think about them?
I don’t have good memories from those incidents. It brings me memories especially when I see pictures of our own immigrants being on boats over the sea, experiencing a lot of hardships.

How do you feel when you remember those memories? What do you think?
First of all, I get sad because I myself was in that situation and second, I thank God for being here now. Like everything is gone. That’s it.

How have these experiences affected your life?
It has had a vast impact. The impacts are I was able to … I think of myself both as a man and a woman. I am both the man and the woman of the family. For example, say, I see myself strong, not weak. Because in the past I was a woman suppose who would just cook in the house and nothing else. I had no permission to do anything else because my husband wouldn’t let me do anything else. But now, thank God, I can do anything I like to do. As I said before, I am both a man and a woman.

Did you ever think that you would face such situations?
Never. Never.

How could you cope with it, with the bitter memories that you have, the experiences? How could you cope with or forget it?
I haven’t forgotten about it. I mean I cannot forget it easily. But I try to forget it. I try my best because I do not have good memories from the past. Ummm … I forgot your question.

How could you cope with it?
I have no other options; I have to cope with it. I have no other options but to cope with it. I have to bear it.

Have you found any place to help you get better mentally?
Yes. Do you mean a psychologist?

Yes, it has been three years since I have been seeing different psychologists. Yes, I talk with them. But I don’t know if they can help me psychologically. When one experiences pressure … well … when there is a lot of pressure and you have got problems and go talk to a psychologist, the psychologist cannot help you. They can just console you. Only God knows if you can find comfort.

Before what happened to you in Afghanistan and the threats you received or anything, when you had a peaceful life, what was your dream for your future back then? Please start with a sentence saying “my dream was …”.
Can you please repeat again?

Before what happened, before your sister’s husband came and threatened your husband, and before all these happened, what was your dream for your future back then? Start with a sentence saying “My dream was”.
Look I don’t say I was very happy back then. I was being harassed by my husband’s family. His family was very crowded, I mean my husband’s family. I don’t want to say that I was very happy. I got married when I was 13 or 14 years old. I was just a child. Just think of it; I gave birth to my first child when I was 15. I was 15 or, I don’t know, maybe 14. To sum it up, I am not saying I was happy and would think about the future. I was a child at that time and didn’t know anything.

You had no dreams?
Nothing. Yeah why not. Before I got married, my dream was to study and be successful. And the only child who studied in my father’s family was me. Suppose that among my five brothers and sisters, only I was studying. It was only me who was going to school. I was very interested. I had a lot of dreams but I didn’t achieve them. Because they made me marry at a very young age. When they made me marry … suppose … I didn’t know what a book and a pen were because I was not allowed to have them in my hand. I was a house-wife. You know that better.

After what happened and you were forced to leave your country and take this trip, what was your dream at that time? What was your wish for the future?
My only dream was to reach a country where there is peace and calm. For example, my dream was that my children could be successful and not be like me. My wish was that my children can accomplish something.

Before what happened and you left your home, what do you think were your strengths back then? What skills and abilities did you have?
Frankly speaking, when I was leaving my home, I was so … suppose … I could not believe it. We only had that much time to hear our families telling us that we have to leave the country, you have to leave this country because it is dangerous for you. I was never thinking of reaching here alive. Never. Because we experienced a lot of hardships on our way. I did not think I would reach Greece safe and sound. Because I struggled a lot on my way.

I think you didn’t get my question. I mean, before what happened that made you leave your home, when you had a normal life …. living a normal life, what do you think were your abilities back then? What strengths did you have?
As I said before …. I told you that I was not very happy with my life. Why? Because I didn’t love my husband at all and he did not love me too. He had married me for the sake of his family. Back then, I had no hope and I was never happy with my life. I was not happy a single day during the time I was with my husband.

Do you think that you were a weak person?
Very much.

Are you still the same?
No. As I told you before, I have changed a lot since then.

From the time I got divorced from my husband … I mean my husband made me not be strong.

To be weak?
To be weak. Suppose . . . your husband is someone who has bitten you from the time you were 12 or 13 years old and punished you all the time. This will make you a fearful and cowardly person all the time. You never think you are strong. And when no one supports you … suppose, … I never thought of myself as being strong. I was not permitted to speak a word. That’s the way it was.

Do you think that facing these problems has built something inside you, made you mature? With all the hardships that you have encountered, have they made you grow?
Can you please say that again?

Do you think the hardships that you have faced made you stronger and mature?
No, I haven’t thought about that.

But as we were talking, I can see that you have changed a lot, improved a lot.

And it means that you have grown.
Yes. Yes, from that angle, yes.

Can you explain further?
Look, somedays I sit and think to myself if I was in this situation at the age I got married, I could become someone for myself. I could accomplish something in my life instead of giving birth to a baby when I was only 12 or 15. I could have learnt something. Suppose, if I knew a language and had a job, I wouldn’t face these many hardships. And I … I would not be waiting for the government’s 300 Euros. And that is nothing. I give it as the rent of my house once I receive it. If I could become someone in my childhood, I wouldn’t face these hardships now.

What dreams and wishes do you have now? Start with a sentence that says “My dream is …”.
My hope is that I can. I can stand on my own feet one day. I can’t stay at home like this until the end of my life and not learn the language. Thank God I have progressed a lot. I am learning English. Then, my hope is that one day my children can make the best life for themselves. And then, they might be able to support me as well. This is my hope.

Thank you very much. I am done with my questions and thanks for coming and answering the questions. If you have anything to add so that people can better understand a refugee’s situation in Greece, please tell us.
The situation is really hard for immigrants in Greece. I am saying this from what I have seen and experienced in camps. As I said before, in 2016, when I came, I spent around one year and six months in a camp, I spent one year in a hostel. So, to sum it up, women’s conditions were very hard, especially those who did not have any guardians, did not know the language and had kids. Their situation is really hard. And even the government really does not pay enough attention to the refugees. Take a woman who has two kids, does not know the language, and has no job. The government only pays her as much stipend as is enough for her food. They don’t think she needs a house. They give you a house for one year. After one year, they tell you to leave the house and you need to rent a house yourself. There are even some people who are not given a house. I registered for a house two years ago. I had even undergone an operation back then. At the time, I went to them with my doctor’s prescription and told them that I am not in a good condition. I was paying 300 Euros for the rent of one room, a small room of about four square meters. They told me that they have sent my documents and are waiting for news from the authorities. There was no news and they didn’t know why I was not given a house despite the fact that I was vulnerable. They said you are eligible because you are vulnerable; but we don’t know why they don’t give you a house and this is something only God knows of. I went to them five or six times and told them that I am in a difficult situation, out of the money I receive, only 20 Euros remain for me, and I have two kids who go to school. Yet, they did not help me. Any woman that would see me would appreciate me and tell me God bless you parents. You have both rented a house with the government’s stipend and are running your life. But I was … that was what I was showing externally. I had a lot of problems at home and could not show them. Also, I was threatened by my husband. I would not go out. I wouldn’t go to the places where I could find help and support. No, not at all. The first place that I know is your office that someone told me about. I go nowhere. To sum it up, the condition of Afghans… of all the refugees is really hard in Greece. And apart from those who are in Athens, there are those who live inside the camps, living in tents in the cold with small kids. This is what I have seen as my friends live there. Their condition is really hard.

Thank you very much.
You’re welcome.

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.