About Refugees, By Refugees

Shivan Rohat

Pictures taken in:



Photo and interview by:

United Kingdom

Kurdistan, Syria/Rojava


Zozan Yasar

I dream that my country will be free one day,” says Shivan Rohat (pseud, 30), a Kurdish refugee from Syria. Shivan left Syria because military groups “were forcing people to carry weapons and wage wars.” He says this was a “horrendous experience.” It was “very scary, unbalancing, confusing, terrifying.” His journey to Europe was a “really bad experience, like this is one of the things you will not be able to forget.” He had to cross the Syrian border into Turkey, which was guarded by the military, then took a dinghy into Greece. With “fake documents” he managed to get to mainland Europe. Now in the UK, Shivan sometimes feels sad “because I left everything behind. But sometimes, happy because I made it to a place where there is safety.” The most difficult thing, he says, is to be alone: “when I’m alone, I go back to my past.” Yet, he says, he has “the capability of overcoming challenges,” and that his “difficulties will end. And of course, when I overcome it, tomorrow will be right.”

Trigger Warning:

full interview

And thank you so much, first of all, for being on interview. And now I’m going to ask you some questions, just first for trying to understand if the recording is working. So how was your day?
Yeah, it’s fine.

Well, fine?

OK great, so let’s start question..and…. What kind of housing do you live in?
I’m currently, currently living in a temporary accommodation. It’s housing provided to me by the local council. I have been living there since a couple of weeks and this one is and there is no contract that I have signed. It’s not a permanent place to live. It’s just temporary until I get my permanent housing.

Can you describe the conditions?
The conditions are very good, actually. Uh, the place is totally independent. I have my own space. I can do my own activities inside this house. There is… facility or utility? They are the stuff I need, it’s totally equipped with the necessary machines, with the UK system, so I’m totally satisfied about that.

Who do you live with?
I’m living alone.

You live alone. OK, so how do you spend your time here? Do you work?
Basically, no. Currently I’m unemployed. I don’t work due to the COVID-19. Despite, I’m trying to find a job. But because of the COVID-19 outbreak, there is no chance. What I’m doing, I’m checking always a job website. I’m trying to find something suitable to me. I apply as much as I can. I spend time basically watching, following news, updating my CV and applying for for for for any potential job I could be successful in. Sometimes I go out in the city center. Sometimes I have a few friends. I have made a few friends here. I catch up with them. I go out sometimes with them. I think there is nothing fundamentally I can focus on for the moment. For the moment, I don’t have any plans (not audible), but days are going as usual.

Mmhmm. What are some of the things that bring you joy?
Uh, actually, the main thing joyful for me is, uh, the respect, dignity I have found here in the UK. Uh, second, the support I got from the council, the government department, people, other organization who are supporting refugees. Uh, third, another important thing is the individual freedom I’m enjoying. This is also an asset. I can’t find it anywhere else. And in addition to that, the atmosphere around me, uh, like like the the beautification of the city, the pleasant times I spend in the city where the city is amazing.

How has life been since you arrived in Europe and what’s been what has been good about being here? What has been difficult? What has been difficult?
Actually, since I arrived here in the European zone, life has been, uh, really different. Like, many things. Uh, last year, for instance, my network, friends, family and others, I have left them. And here this is the most the most different, thing I feel. Second, the other difference I can spot right on is, uh, the quality of life here is much higher than the place I was living. Uh, third, I have learned new things here which pushed me to to go into a certain part of my life. I was not used before to be so specific in planning the situation. Uh, regarding the difficulties, uh, I can say the most difficult thing is to be alone here, to be to feel inside yourself as a stranger person, to sometimes you need to to to see or to to live in a situation with specifically with people you used to- your meetings, your your your normal situation when you went around you. There are many people. Unfortunately, this is the difficulties I can’t overcome.

Can you describe how living here has made you feel?
Uh, in many conditions I feel better, especially when I need, uh, support. For instance, when I go to any medical center, if I need, normally I get support. Or if I go somewhere else. I need any, like, social, uh, something related to social affairs, I normally, I get support. However, uh, however, like the other thing is feeling alone is really difficult. If no one can experience it unless otherwise specified or unless he himself live in the same conditions.

Yeah, I understand you definitely. You actually said something, but let me try to read if there’s something missing, maybe you can explain more. How does being away from the rest of your family home make you feel? How does the feeling of not belong in this, or discrimination, stigma impact you? Can you describe?
Actually being away from a family or home is, I can say it’s not a normal condition. Is not easy to adapt to the new situation or to integrate with new community. I hope, many times I feel frustrated. Other time I’ve been disappointed. You know, I I’m here. But my mind, my thinking on on my family while still in Syria in a situation of like they live in a situation, they can’t understand it because the future is not clear. I always think about them what will happen tomorrow, how how this war situation will affect them. This is a really, really annoying idea coming to my mind all this time. And of course, I can’t strip myself with these feelings. At the end of the day, we are human. We are controlled by motivations, interest and attitudes. Uh, belonging, of course. I feel belonging to the UK community now, after being here for over a year. I can tell you why. The place I came from, from Syria was much difficult, difficult for me, even though I was with my family and in my country. But the situation was really, really a discriminating. It was very difficult for me. I, I the issue of belonging, when I when I say I belong to the UK because the UK hosted me and they give me support, this is because they respect me, they give me dignity and they think like me, like giving me feeling to to be as a human. These values was lost. Whether in Syria or in Iraq where I spent many years. And from this point I can tell you that the real discrimination was in Syria and was in Iraq, but not in the UK. I never I never have faced any kind of discrimination I can tell you about. Otherwise, where people always supported me when they knew the real story of you, that you are a genuine person who has been persecuted and this point pushes you, encouraged you and give you a positive feeling. This that’s what I can describe.

Thank you. Could you ever have imagined that you would have been able to handle the situation? How have you been able to overcome, survive, or live with it?
To be honest, I have imagined, because every person once before living in Syria as a Kurd and was an enterprise to be fragmented into beyond the borders. Uh, handling the situation, of course, is not easy, but of course it’s not more difficult than handling your own situation where you are in a city or a country, uh, ruled by a totalitarian regime, where you are deprived from the basic, uh, human rights. Uh, like when I arrived in the U.K., of course, there are many challenges that I have mentioned, uh, as I have aforementioned, but still was not as difficult as I lived in Syria or in Iraq, where there was a real challenge over there. Uh, the challenges I overcome here, I always was overseeing or prospecting the positive dimension of the chance I have here. And with energy, I still have. I always expect a better opportunity in the future. I can coexist with the challenge I’m facing now, but, of course, I believe that the future would be much better, and when you are making a decision to move to somewhere in order to to to flee from any persecution or oppression, you are or you have, you had already been facing you know, in the future from your from the things in your mind, you expect to succeed. This is what I can coexist with.

Important. Do you think that you have you develop the ability to deal with these challenges, or do you think you always had those skills or strengths?
I guess, of course, I have developed this kind of ability to to be a pragmatic and very practical in terms of facing challenges and not just leave them. For this reason, actually, I from my feeling deeply, I tried to combine all. To to to bring up the utmost threat I have in myself in order to be able to face this this challenge. I try to be resilient in every situation. I tried to use any mechanism that calm down the stress I could feel from any from any, uh, expected, uh, challenge. Uh, and this is what make me always optimistic. Sadly, it was kind of a disaster situation. It was very difficult for me. And we of course, we have lost a lot of people, people from different parts of eara (Syria). And I try to be patient. This is what I can say.

OK, let’s go on and talk about COVID-19 a bit. How has COVID affected you in terms of daily life and your mood or maybe feeling and emotion?
COVID had one of the most negative impact I can say on myself. Actually, it affected me in terms of finding a job and trying to to to organize if I was right to say my daily life. Uh, COVID also restrict me and my place all indoors. And this is also disfranchize me to meet, maybe people or to make more people making it build, build better networks. This is the issue. And of course, COVID is creating kind of phobia in yourself. You are always scared about it, especially if you are alone and if you have contracted the virus and in this case you are expecting that you have no one around you who could save you. And it’s it’s unlike when you are within a household family where someone is contracted and others could support you. But if you are alone in a place with COVID, this is really difficult and that this is the thing I was always scared of.

So now we’re going to talk about your past. And I will have a few question. Um, how did you leave your country? Can you describe what happened?
I left Syria in 2013, 14, and that time I can say that time was really difficult because the country was, the country, uh, was divided among multiple non-state actors, militia, and the state itself. Those groups, military groups, they were forcing people to carry weapons and and wage wars or join the difficult military. And this was very it was kind of horrendous to to to, horrendous experience to go with them. So for this reason, I have made my final decision to leave. How did that make you feel at that time? I can say it was very scary. Unbalancing, confusing, terrifying.

Yeah, how was the journey to Europe? Is there any experience that was particularly difficult that you could tell us about?
The journey into Europe was really difficult, where I have crossed many borders, seas. Yeah. It’s really bad experience, like this is one of the things you will not be able to forget. However, I made it and I was successful. I see it was kind of accomplishment. The journey basically was firstly to come on the border with Turkey and to to pass this border was really difficult, where the militaries are guarding. The second, like using kind of dinghy to go from, uh, Turkey West coast into any Greek island was also difficult. And from Greek island you have to manage to to to to cross airport with the fake documents to enter into the European zone. Actually, Greece itself was a place where nobody can live. There are no conditions. You can, there are, the like the living conditions are really are below below, the standard is not normal to be able to do that. Uh, of course you have to have some money in order to give to some people who can bring you to the European zone. Uh, I can say I have spent all the money I have worked before, and this is what, uh, what made me to end up in into the UK.

How did that make you feel at that time?
Very frustrating. Very disappointing, because we didn’t know what will happen to us. We were expecting I don’t know this was very, uh, dangerous. There were many hazards on the way. Ahead was all every time like from the place to place from station to station was very scary.

So do you think about these events often? When or is there something in particular you think about often?
I often think about them, of course, when I’m alone, when I think I go back to my past. Of course, mainly when I’m sitting alone, I remember some memories. Or when I keep touch with friends who I knew then. This is in particularly, uh, made me sad to remember those difficult days.

What do you feel when you think about that?
Sometimes sad because I left everything behind. But sometimes, of course, happy because I made it to a place where there is safety.

Does the situation you faced affect you today? How were you affected?
How it’s affecting my psychology? Well, sometimes I feel disorder about them, how I was able to confront all these difficulties. And I when I think about how and how I have overcome the dangers.

Yeah, sounds difficult. Well, I can imagine because I, I feel the same thing with you. Um, could you ever have imagined that you would have been able to handle that situation?
Yes. Yes.

So what motivates you?
What motivated me, actually, since I have lived a similar situation but different. I mean, the same conditions, but in a different way. And I used to be strong and motivated to overcome the challenges I can face.

How are you able to survive? Getting through it. Have you created any kind of strategy or coping mechanism to get through the hard times? Where do you find strength and support, for example?
I survived through, as I thought is to plan for the future, for the better future, where there is safety, where no one can just see you on the road and pick you up. Uh, this what actually making me to to think it better in a very optimistic and positive way. And this is give me the sense to be always survived. And I did my strategy and the mechanism I put on my head is always you human being will always face difficulties. But of course, after difficulties there are relaxation. You will be relaxed. I was thinking at that time that, OK, these difficulties will end. They will vanish at the end of the day. And of course, when I overcome it, tomorrow will be right. And this is the mechanism I use. Mainly it’s kind of moral or internal motivation. My dream was to graduate and to pursue my studies and to start working in an area I was inter, interested about, actually. And live my life within a community, free community, respect, individuality and individualism, I could be my life on the way I want, the situation I look for. Uh, but as, uh, as I have said, things were different.

When you were leaving your home country, was your dream for the future and what was your dream for the future? Have them answered. And you can say I dreamed that when you start.
I dream that my country will be free one one day and the human rights will be expected, will be respected. Courts will regain the rights. There will be recognition with our identity and our civil rights. It will be enjoyed. With kind of managing our own situation. There will be freedom of expression, freedom of media, freedom of speech, for press, freedom of like the, uh, like the equality of the job of the judiciary system in the country. The culture and the cultural diversity will be addressed. I was, I dream that will take place.

OK, I’m just dropping off four questions for you. Before leaving your home country, what would you describe as your strengths? Have you maintain this? If so, how? If not, why not?
My strength actually was always facing the issues we have, uh, we have already been facing with a totalitarian regime. I was in a place where over, overwhelmed or was a city where other components like they were there and they were many of them were affiliated with the Marxist party. What I say, like like I have been discriminated by them. We were not allowed to speak our own language. And this was a really hard thing. And I was thinking about and sometimes I wasn’t able to find an answer for it. Why where we are all human, but why some of us are being discriminated in this way? Like. I was maintained, actually, because I want to be in front of them, to be a counterpart, to be face to face. I would not say tit for tat, but was kind of, OK, I must deserve what they deserve. I must be strong in front of all this discrimination.

What you have been through seems really difficult. Do you feel like you have grown in any way as a result of this experience or has anything at all positive come out of it?
Yes, I can say I have grown, because it was experience. Uh, and this experience, uh, opened my eyes to many things. Uh, and of course I feel positive about it and feel happy about about it is the capability of overcoming challenges. Uh, I grow from myself. I learn new things. I learn from people, from my own experience when I see is is things like affecting essentially your own personality. In this event, you get kind of strong personality.

OK, what are your hopes and dreams for the future now? How can you answer with my dream is…
My dream is to pursue my work in the field I like to grow up in it. And to build new friends to build a new family or a family and to live in a place where it’s safe and equal and the opportunities are equally provided and where people can respect you and can support you and motivate you. 

We really appreciate you answering all this question, is there anything you would like to add that might help people in Europe better understand the life of refugees here?
I would like to comment on one thing. Being a refugee is not a decision. It’s kind of, uh, compulsory situation. No one wants to leave their own country and go overseas living alone or be strange inside themselves unless unless some situations are obliging them to do that. I want some people who are who have this phobia, this phobia against the refugees. I just want to tell them. Not the refugees, they are not dangers against you, it’s the vice versa, they are at risk. They need your support with people, the free people, the the people who who have a sense of humanity. I, I, I believe them. I believe I have believed in them actually to support refugees who are really at risk from their own governments or countries or militias. And from the way they are taking and from some of communities where they have kind of aggressiveness toward refugees. I there must be better understanding of why people are getting or becoming refugees. Refugees, of course, is not a choice. It’s not a decision individual take, but it’s kind of obligatorily situation where people, they don’t find anything and they just end up fragmented somewhere else.

OK, thank you so much.
Thank you.

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.