About Refugees, By Refugees

Portrait of refugee Tahmineh wearing a black hijab with a red floral pattern with one hand under the hijan and the other draping it on her shoulder standing against a embroidered tapestry


Pictures taken in:



Photo and interview by:




Nooshin Sanjabi

“We Iranian women are not coming from a direct war… where there are bombs, tanks and guns. We have been at war from the time we were born,” says Tahmineh (pseud, 33). Tahmineh, a theatre director, was in Poland when her former partner “started threatening me and spreading our private photos among the family,” who said they would punish her when she returned home to Iran. So she fled to Germany, where she lived in a church office with 12 others, “sleeping on the ground in the cold winter” and living on one meal a day. She describes this time as humiliating: “All of those moments, I was cursing… I had become an angry person.” More than two years later, she lives in a camp in Berne, and is seeking asylum. Her experiences have made her bolder, she says. “My dream…was for Iran to become free… I will work hard so that no other woman and girl experience those situations,” she says. “If I was able to reach a more liberated world, I will just fight.”

Trigger Warning: Sexual violence, sexism

full interview

Can you explain your life condition now? It means where do you live and how is the condition there?
Ah I live in a camp now, the primary immigration camp. And … by the way, I have recently returned to the camp. I was out of the camp for two years and I was a fugitive. I live in a camp in Berne province now, in Germany.

How is its condition?
It is a big camp which used to be the American troops’ base. It has a lot of construction loops. And I think it has around 4,000-people capacity. And every person who is there is almost a newcomer and has recently entered Germany. They are mostly from countries like … ah … African countries, Syria and Iran.

How is that place? How does it make you feel to live there?
For me, it feels like a camp, like a prison with its door open to a small city. It means its door is only open to at least a supermarket. Because the facilities that exist there and the money that they give you is not as much as you could have any entertainment. It is like a small, dark and cold city that is not the same as the places that we have lived in. And, it is not easy for me to live there.

How does this uncomfortable life affect your mental status? It means are you sad or angry or melancholic? You know what type of feeling I mean?
I am sad because um, let alone the situation that I am coming from and what type of situation did I have before, the fact to take this steel food dish like those of the prisoners and we had it at university as well and stand in the long food distribution line every day, is very painful for me. Or, for example, I have to walk for many kilometers to get food for one meal and then they stamp on my card, or to eat cold food or … I am saying, it is a little bit like the obligatory work labor camps or a prison.

Did you feel humiliated?
I get humiliated, I have sorrow, I become angry. The fact that I have to stand in line for two to three hours to get toilet paper, or for toothpaste and shampoo, makes me very angry. 

How do you struggle with these problems? I mean what do you do, you know what I mean? What do you do to keep your morale high?
First of all, I have the hope every day for this to end. I am always saying that it will end tomorrow. I am always like, for example, a good incident will happen. I am waiting for a letter, for my acceptance answer, then … I keep myself busy with music and the things that I like, so that I am a little bit away from that circumstance. 

How has life been in Europe? It means, from the time you have come to Europe and how has life in Europe affected you?
Ok, let me tell you about my process that what happened that I have been here since two years and my immigration case has not move forward at all. Since you asked about the situation in the camp, let me explain to you the situation in another place as well and that is the church because I have lived in the church as well. Although I am not Christian and have no other religion, I was forced to live in church. Because when I entered in September 2018, the fingerprint of … my previous country was Poland where I had a theatre show. I came to Germany after the theatre was ended and found out that I cannot go back to Iran. I introduced myself to the police there in Germany and they sent me to the camp that I talked about which is located in Berne. And after four months there, the police came after me. It was morning one day that … By the way, I had run away before that. But they sent me the videos, the neighborhood there, the camp residents. It was showing that a big van and six to seven police cars had come after me to take me with them, it was in the middle of the night. And also, I had understood the night before that the police are going to come for me and send me back to Poland because of Daplin’s law. I escaped away. It was a snowy night and I had no money. I escaped and came and I didn’t know anywhere in Germany or any city or how to take a bus or a train. I came to Frankfurt with any bus that would go anywhere. Then a friend called and told me to go to Dortmund so I went to Dortmund and from there I went to a place close to the Belgium and Holland border. I found a church and there was a man who was French but had a church. He was the owner, the father, what is that called, the pastor of that church. He was giving shelter to some of the immigrants who had the same problem as mine and had escaped the police. The situation there was very … I think I might never experience the situation that I had there, I am hopeful. Or I wish no one else would experience that situation. And a few people have this chance I think to experience that situation. It is because in a church, the upper part where the music is being broadcasted, the place where there is the hall, upper in that part there is something that broadcasts music. And upper that part was the attic where this man had given shelter to the boys who were fugitives. They would open their sleeping bed and on Sunday mornings, suppose they had slept in that music place, among a lot of instruments and table and chairs.

How many people were there?
There were around 30 men up there, in the attic. It was in a way that you could only sit in your sleeping bed. You could not stand up. Women had settled in the basement where the canalization and pipes and generator of the church are located, it was the generator and radiator room. With all the humidity, smell and darkness and these things. It was not about one or two days, those people had to stay there for 18 months. It means for 18 months with most of the women being Iranian and African, were sleeping beneath those pipes and on the ground. By the way, my room was different, I was in another room which was for prayers and it was the Church’s office rooms. Twelve Eritrea girls and I were sleeping on the ground in the cold winter without sleeping bags and adequate facilities and sleeping beside each other. We knew that if we got out of that church, the police would catch us anytime and deport us to our previous countries. And from the financial aspect, they were giving us one meal during the day and from a financial aspect, from the time Germany sends you back, it is no more responsible for your financial expenses and food, we had no money at all. It means, our job there was, if the church was giving us one bottle of water, a plastic water bottle, we had to give back the bottle and receive 20 cents for that bottle and that would make all your savings. Now, if you need anything, if a woman needs pads or anything or you need tampons and things like that, you have to buy them with those 20 cents that you had saved for yourself.

I know, since I have faced a lot of problems during this process and the things that you are saying are really horrible. All of these incidents like being broke, running away, going from here to there, not knowing any place in Germany and the cities, how were you feeling when you were experiencing these situations? How would it make you feel?
Exceptionally for me, it was never a regret. If you want to hear about it, I struggled with all these hardships but I never regretted it, which means I never wanted to go back, never, not even for a second.

No, I mean, for example, how were you feeling mentally at that time?
Humiliation. Humiliation, it was truly humiliation. It means … all of those moments, I was cursing. It means I had become an angry person and being sensitive …

Please feel free, if you need a pause or a break or anything, you are not forced to. Or the parts that you do not want to answer 
(Crying) Thank you.
(Crying) The stories of the people that I would see during these paths, I would forget about myself sometimes and would tell myself, especially about my nationality, that why we are here? Why are we so degraded? What are we penalized for? (Crying) Then I was comparing that, I don’t know, if we had come from a real war where people are pointing guns to each other and were killing each other that way, it could’ve been logical for other people but we are coming from a place and have escaped a situation that is even hard to explain. We Iranians. It is even hard to explain it to others. Why? What was wrong with you that you accepted to struggle with all these hardships? Walking through the long roads, go and drown into the sea to reach here and encounter all these miseries. (Crying)

Is it OK with you to tell us why you left Iran in the first place? You can continue anytime you want and can stop anytime you feel uncomfortable. 
Yes, thank you. I have studied literature in Iran and as I said, I have come with a theatre team where I was the director. This theatre group was the group that I had established for 10 years where I was working with the disabled and down syndrome children, and the children who had brain injuries. It was a very successful group and at the same time, I was a reporter. And, as far as I could and had the permission, I could even write officially. Ah well …
I was always concerned about human rights, women rights, and other similar concerns. We had been disgraced, we were angry and I was even writing stories. It was recognizable in all of the works that I had produced. But it was not to that level to make my life hard until I left the country. It means, I did not go to jail, I was continuously working but I was paying attention that, I don’t know, I did not go to prison or for example, I was not arrested. But yes, I have been beaten a lot on the streets like a lot of other people of my age during the incidents that would happen, the protests that we had on the streets. 
It means, a 10-year gap exists in Iran where we all have been beaten a lot on the streets because of our beliefs. But these were not my problems. Ah … my problem started with my family when they got to know that I have come to Europe. They felt that they have lost a little bit of their control over me and thought that I might not return. 
And before that, the person that I was living with as a partner, started threatening me and spreading our private photos among the family and it was just because I had not asked for their permission and I was working in a theatre. Also, because I had come here and had put down my scarf. It was because … I don’t know why they were taking revenge. And also, it was the same with my family. They were supporting him instead of supporting me and the people who were gossiping behind my back. They believed the private photos that they had seen. It is not normal for a family to see the naked photos of their daughter and her photos when she is having sex with a strange man while she is still someone else’s wife in her identity card, officially on the papers. And, they started threatening me. And said, you are supposed to come back and when you come back we will punish you this way or even, for example, my brother even sent me a photo of an acid bottle once. And he told me that they are waiting to spread that on my face. Or for example, such a threat, which is not unimaginable because I know my family and I know that they will do such a thing because of the background that they have. They are all kind of a member of the regime, I don’t know, they are from the Mobility group and it has been years and the most important point is that they have done the same with my aunt. It means, they actually burned my aunt. And somewhat they did it one or two days before her wedding party but they somewhat showed that she herself had burned herself. She was in a hospital for 90 days until she died. It means, it took 90 days for her burns to reach a level until she dies. It means, things were this much severe during that woman’s time. They were even saying that, for example, my father was saying that such an incident might happen to me as well so take care if you are planning to come back. 

All of these threats and the feeling that you were being threatened by your family, on the other hand, they had spread your photos, and although the situation you had is a normal situation in other parts of the world, how would all of these incidents make you feel? Feeling afraid, feeling angry, feeling sad, what type of feeling was that? 
All of them. Look, we were not unfamiliar with the situation in Iran. I was an updated girl compared to other people’s conditions, for example, the European women. But the truth is, unless you do not come and see and touch and feel things closely, you cannot understand how wide the difference is. It means, now that I say I was a modern girl in Iran, I truly had my biggest challenge on issues like virginity, something that even does not exist here. And until you are in that context, you cannot understand very well how things are different from each other. When I came here, I better understood that Oh! What were we calling life? How has my gender been defined here in this part of the world and who is called a woman in that part of the world? Or what they want from a woman, what picture do they have from a woman, what are her rights and what are her responsibilities? I didn’t know these things actually. Not that I didn’t know at all, I had watched movies and I had read books but I had touched them for the first time here.

What would you do to cope with all these problems and the hard situations? What was your strength to overcome this situation? Do you know what I mean? What would you do to stay alive in such a situation? How would you give hope and strength to yourself? What would you do? What do you do?
Fight against it. I was just fighting and that is it. From a point forward, I felt like I didn’t want to call myself a victim. But if I have been the victim and some incidents have happened to me that were bad or I have really wanted to die in one point in my life, or I have been under that much stress that I really wanted to kill myself or someone else kill me, or the times that I was in a hallucination that someone is chasing me all the time, the pressures that I have tolerated in my life, I am saying it again that I don’t want to call myself a victim. But, I don’t want someone else …I will work hard so that no other woman and girl experience those situations, I will do that. It means, I have set this goal in my life that if I was able to reach a more liberated world, I will just fight. This calms me. 

This sorrow and anger and the situation that you have encountered are not easy and comfortable situations. This question might seem a bit silly but have all these problems changed your life from a positive perspective? Did they have a positive impact in your life?
I think, for your question, my answer is the same as your previous question. It means, the positive impact on me, I don’t know … I have become bolder. But I like to be counted as being active when it comes to other people’s perspectives in my surroundings.

Would you ever think you will be in such a situation one day?
No, never.

And be able to overcome this situation?
No, I never imagined encountering all those hard days. By the way, my hard days have not come to an end yet. Exactly in one-week from now, I am going to have my first immigration interview. After two years and some months or two years and two to three months, it seems like I have newly entered Germany. It is because my fingerprint has been newly removed and Germany can follow up with my case. And, I think it is the beginning of my stress because, I don’t know how understandable my situation is to them, I don’t know how much I can talk to them in that interview, I don’t know what they will think about me, about my country and why I am here. I don’t know if I will be able to explain to them why I am here when they want to know about it. So that they give me a positive or negative answer. And the fact that they are keeping me uncertain more than this makes me very angry. Naturally, people should be grateful for the country that has given them shelter, but, as I told you that I do not regret not going back to Iran, but I was also not happy for being in Germany and having such a situation in Germany. I was always seen as a fugitive with the least possible human rights before getting accepted. No language class, no education, no money, no permission to continue my education and university. They do not consider a lot of the rights at the beginning. I don’t know, I am not in their position and they might be right. But at least … I don’t know … at least they could provide some help at the beginning of my entrance. I, who had escaped because of not being burned or not letting acid to be spread in my face, I don’t know, the police could at least not come after me in the middle of the night. Or, I could not remain hungry, I shouldn’t have been … At least someone could come and talk to me and ask me why I am here. They didn’t do those things except to do a lot of paperwork and bureaucracy. They did not do anything for me, at least until today. Germany has a long and tiring process for immigration.

What was your dream when you were in Iran? You can start with, “In Iran, my dream was …”.
I have to start that way? My dream in Iran … My dream in Iran was that ah … Iran can be fixed. Iran to be fixed is something we can talk about for many days but I don’t want to talk about it. But we were fighting there through a different approach and we do that here as well.

It means, if you can summarize it in one sentence, your dream in Iran was that Iran gets fixed?
Yes. Iran’s freedom.

Can you say that yourself? In one sentence?
My dream in Iran was for Iran to become free. 

What is your dream now? Say that in one sentence again. 
Iran to become free.

Does it mean you still have the same dream?
It is still the same and has not changed.

Has Covid-19 or Corona affected your life?
(Laughing) yes. It has affected a lot of the immigration cases and our personal lives. I think it has affected all of us the same but it might be more or less. But, it has affected my official immigration process and case, it has replaced a lot of appointments and … strange incidents have happened.

Thank you for participating in this interview although you have a lot of hard time here and permitted us to publish your story. Is there anything that you would like to add? Anything you would like to tell to Europeans so that they can understand us better although they have a different life and culture? 
I have to think about it. I can talk to you about it in a few minutes. I have to take a cigarette now.

Ok, thank you. 
For my last sentence and for the people here to understand me better and to understand all of us, I want to say that we Iranian women are not coming from a direct war, a war where there are bombs, tanks and guns. We have been at war from the time we were born, in a difficult and unjust war until, I don’t know, until we can fix our condition. 

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.