About Refugees, By Refugees

Yassin Jalloh

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Sierra Leone

Sierra Leonean

Mahmoud Jabbie

That was my dream, to go to a place I will be safe,” says Yassin Jalloh (18) recalling his flight from Sierra Leone. When his father discovered he was gay, he knew he was in danger. “I have to leave everything behind: My life, my childhood, everything.” While crossing “nine or ten” countries to reach Europe he was kidnapped, imprisoned and witnessed a man being killed. In Greece, his struggles continued. For months he was in a refugee camp, then homeless in Athens. “I don’t think anyone in this world is supposed to experience what I had experienced in my life,” he says. His mental health has suffered. “I still have flashbacks. I still have the trauma.” Therapy is helping: “I think I’m getting better.” Thinking back to loved ones in Sierra Leone, he says, “my family is my strength. My family is my support.” He misses them. “When I remember my family I even cry.” While the experience has been hard, he says: “it makes me a strong person. I think I’ll be able to overcome anything in my life now.”

Trigger Warning:

full interview

Hello, how are you?
I’m fine.

Who are you?
My name is Yassin Jalloh. 

Where are you from?
I’m from Sierra Leone.

What kind of housing do you live in?
I live in an NGO house in Athens.

OK, how can you describe the conditions?
 Well, it’s OK. It’s favorable because I live with only one person in the room and the apartment is seven people in the apartments of five rooms. So it’s OK. 

OK, how do you spend your time here?
Well, uh, I don’t work. I’m only at home doing some appointment  because now I’m recognized. So I just spend my daily activities to go to organizations, try to be better person, I’m even studying to go to school this month. So I don’t do much. This is just what I do for now.

OK, what are some of the things that brings you joy?
For the fact that I’m safe here. I think this makes me a lot of joy because I’m not running from my life anymore. I’m safe in Greece, so I’m just looking forward to what will happen next in my life.

OK, so how has life been since you arrived here in Europe?
Well, it’s been good and bad because I spent because I came here a minor and in Leros I spent five months. It was it was not good. The living conditions in the island was not good. But I was able to come to Athens. When I turn 18, they give me an open card. I came to Athens and I was homeless in Athens for about one month or two months. And I saw some of my countrymen that all come from came from Sierra Leone. So I went to them. I was living with them until I was able to get this place. And I was going through like the psychological trauma. I was stressed and all of this from past experience on the from the journey to come here. And it wasn’t easy, but, uh, now I think I’m better now. So it’s been good and bad.

So how that makes you feel?
Uh, it’s, uh, it doesn’t make me feel good because any a human being do not have to  struggle like that in life because he is running being safe. and I don’t think anyone should go through this kind of thing. So it doesn’t make me feel good that I have to live this kind of life now. 

So how can you describe how living here has made you feel?
Like I said, I feel safe. It makes me feel good because now I’m trying to adjust in life because it’s not easy. You know, Greece isn’t an easy place because what we’re hoping for when we come here is not easy, because now I’m a recognized refugee. This stop all my benefits, I cannot receive the money from UN. And so it’s a little bit stressful for me because I have to go on my daily life and I don’t have the support, the support I need. I need. So it’s very difficult. 

So how does being away from the rest of your family, from the rest of your family back home, make you feel?
Is not good because I was young boy. I was going to school, but the situation makes me want to run away so and I missed my family so much sometimes. When I remember my family I even cry so it’s not it’s not good. It’s not good. I feel I feel very horrible about that.

How does the feeling of not belonging anymore as it you know, impacts you?
Of not belonging here?

Of not belonging like discrimination. The stigma?
Of the stigma in Greece here? Right?

Well, I haven’t received like I haven’t had any discrimination as I came in with I think I’m safe here. I think I’m living my life the way I want it to be in that context of like discrimination or stigma and all stigmatize me here. I haven’t heard this since I came here, so. 

Ok. Can you if I imagine that you will have been able to give more you could have be able to handle all this, you know, all these situations?
If I could able to handle all this situations? 

Yeah. Like the things you have been through?
Well it wasn’t easy. That’s why I went to see a psychologist that helped me and I’m still in therapy. I’m still going to therapy. So I think I’m getting by day by day.

OK, do you think that’s, yeah, do you think that you develop the ability to deal with all these challenges or do you think you always had those skills?
Well, the way I was raised, I think it’s one of the things that makes me to be able to overcome this. This like what you’re saying, because my my family, my my my my father, my father is like an elderly person in my community. He’s a leader so he teaches us this like how to be strong in life, how to overcome things, so I think my family play a great role for me being confident and accepting anything that comes my way. So I think that’s what helps me now. 

So how has the COVID yeah, you know, affect you in terms of your daily life and your mood?
Is not easy because a lot of things are not working now in Greece. This Coronavirus, you have to stand in queue, you have to wear personal protective equipment all the time, like the mask is very stressful. So it affects me a lot because it’s not a normal thing, but I just think we’re going to get through it. 

So why do you leave your county?
I left my country because of my sexuality. This is why I left my country. I was not feeling safe. My life was in danger. So I have to leave because if I didn’t leave at that time, something bad would have happened to me. I wouldn’t know how my life would be at this time, so. 

Sure. So how that makes you feel?
It doesn’t feel good because I have the right to my sexuality and the right to express what I want, to do what I want, to live the life I want. But the society I was raised in the did not allow me and not accepting me to be the person I want to be. So it’s not good.

Yeah. So like, can you explain what happened to you?
OK, so I was in love with a boy in school. Uh we had a relationship. And I was going to his house and he was coming to my house and we develop a sexual relationship because I was not into man, but like when I was seen, tried to persuade me to be this kind of person because I was a young boy, I was just living my life and all of this so one time we were in the house because there was a rumors in my community that, I’m homosexual because you know, the boy is homosexual because he’s older than me and everybody knows about him as a Christian and I’m a Muslim. So my family did not accept this and the community didn’t accept this. So there was rumors in my community, but because they didn’t catch me in the act, so they did not do anything bad to me. So one day he came over to my house, uh, where we were discussing and we were having fun, we’re chilling, watching movies, then we started getting, a having like attention like a sexual attraction to him. So we start kissing and then literally in a minute we were having sex in my room. So my father came and, uh, God, my father came in the room and, uh, he saw I was having sex and OK, I had known about this for a long time, but now I have proven it now and he said, I’m going to kill you this is what my father said. So my father and just jump on me and start beating me and the boy. But the boy was able to to just run away and go. But me, I was not able to go because I’m like I said, I’m a young boy, I just turned 18 that time. I was 17 years old. So my father had to punish me. So in the in the verge that when he was punishing me he took a plastic and a light and light the plastic up and he burned my foot and the mark is even here so you can see it right?

Yeah. Yeah!
OK, so um, it burned my foot but I, I was screaming at this time then the whole neighborhood because my neighborhood is big but you know the house, they cluttered there like, uh, houses they are not far from each other. So when someone shouts everyone can hear. So this brings notice to the whole community and people discussing, oh, “This is what your son is doing, while  we’re telling this what you do not believe. So we have to do something about it. You have to set an example”  Because my father is an imam in the mosque. Um, my father is the leader. So we just have all these things all the time actually. You know that this thing, like discrimination against homosexual people. So you want to set an example. So this is what happens. And the whole community was shouting that you have to do something about it. You have to do something, you have to punish this boy. So out of that I was scared, because my community is a very bad community. There was even one incident one time when a guy, they kill a guy because of, uh, because they were making this mask parade in my community. You know, I don’t know if you know about this, mask parade?

Yes, I know.
OK, so, um, the the guy was preaching about this and then they kill this guy. So I was scared. It’s like me now. My father is an imam, leader of a mosque, so I don’t know what will happen next. So I was very scared and this is what happened. So both my mother and my sister, I explained to them because my sister works in a bank. So I, I, I, my mother called my sister and she came to the house and, uh, she called her husband. Husband is a soldier husband came in, rescue me. He went through the back door and go to the window and break the window and pull me out and take me to the border in Guinea. This is how I left. So this is what happens until I’m here now, because that was like nine or ten countries before I reach here by road.

Wow. So how did that makes you feel at the time?
It’s not it doesn’t make me feel good because I have to run from my family. I have to leave everything behind my life, my childhood, everything I have to leave behind. So this is not a good thing. No one would think this is a good thing. 

So how was your journey to Europe? So like, is there any experience you would like to share?
Yes. Survival experiences, being kidnapped, all of this things. The travel it’s not a good experience because I travel to a lot of countries. I’ve seen a lot of things. I even saw they kill someone in front of me. That was my first time in my life in Libya. I was in prison in Libya. I was in prison in Iran. I was in prison in Turkey. So this is not a good experience, this kind of travel. You know, you have sleepless nights. You not have good food to eat. You know? So is very stressful, this kind of journey. 

So how that makes you feel now?
 Now? Now I think because I still have flashbacks. I still have the trauma because when I see like a violent video or something, like people trying to come to Europe and the stop them. So it makes me remember the things I’ve been through. So it’s not a good experience. I think what I’m going through therapy and they’re helping me. So I think I’m getting better. 

So, like, do you. Yeah. Do you think about these things? Yeah. Do you think about these things often? And when?
Yes, I think about it like I said, when I saw something can trigger it- if I saw the violent video or see a news in the media or sometimes when I am quiet moments, these things can come. Or like something like if I’m not able to achieve anything like if I’m running after something and was was able to, anything like suffering. So it is there. It’s not easy to let go of this thing, this trauma, the stress, the flashbacks. They still there. I have nightmares like I’m living in the moment. So it’s not a good thing. It’s not a good experience I’m having now.

So what do you feel when you think about that?
I don’t feel good because no one had to go through this kind of things in their life. But a situation I have to be safe, so I have to go through it. And it’s not it’s not a good experience. It’s not a good thing. 

Were like the thing you have been through does the situation you face, your abilities affected you to day and how?
It affected me, like I said, it affected me because now everything that I faced, travel bad, seeing somebody kill someone in front of me, being homeless. I can’t have good food to eat. Can I have a good place to sleep? I was a minor. I wasn’t receiving money. And now I am recog-, I am recognized now because of my benefits. These are not things that are easy because this you have to because these are bad experiences. These are things that have happened in your life that you just have to overcome there. So it’s not a good thing. No one had to go through this in their life. But I remain strong and I keep pushing to be a better person.

Could you ever imagine that you would have been able to handle all that situation?
No, I never imagined it. But I have to push because I want to be safe, because the countries I traveled to, I wasn’t safe there. This is why I came to Greece and tried to be safe. And when I came here to it’s like a disaster for me because imagine a young boy like me being homeless is very stressful, but I think I’m getting better now because now I have a very good place I’m sleeping in now. So I think life is moving on. Bit by bit. And I’m starting to go to school, so I will get by. 

So how were you able to survive all these things?
It’s just perseverance, because I want to be safe. My life is more important than the suffering I was going through at that time, is why I kept pushing and pushing and pushing until I was able to come here. 

So when you was back home, what was your strength and your support?
My family. My family is my strength. My family is my support. So not being with them here with all these struggles, you know, it’s not easy because they used to do everything for me, just like I said, I was a young boy. I didn’t come from like a poor family. My family, we yeah, we pass middle class a little bit. So I think we we’re OK. So my family is my strength and just living the life I was living. It was a good life compared to what I’m living now is you can even compare the two. 

So what is your strength now?
Now my strength is, uh, just live in the moment because I don’t know now, because now I’m starting over again. This strength I see is starting to go to school. Um, I’m living in a good apartment. I think these are the things that I’m trying to achieve. And the most thing that give me strength is the resident, because now I’m recognized all through the court some of my benefits and everything. But I think if I have the card, then I’ll make a decision. I will be able to get a good job, you know, because now I have access to AFM, AMKA, and all these things so I will be able to go to school and I’ll be able to a job on the side, so I think I will be OK. 

Before the events that lead you to flee home occur,  what was your dream?
My dream? That’s what I want to be in the future? 

Yes, when you was back home?
A  scientist, the computer scientist and I want to pursue this dream, I think I have a chance here when I recognized and I start going to schoo . I will pursue this dream. So I think this is what I want to be in and work in it.

And OK, when you are leaving your home, what was your dream for yeah, for the future.
Well, the the most thing I will say is to be safe. That was my dream, to go to a place I will be safe, because at that time I wasn’t thinking about what I want to be this person. I want to be this. I just want to I just wanted my life to be in a safe place, which I am. To me, this was my dream. That’s why I left my country.

So what is your dream now?
My dream is to get an education, have a job, and move on with my life and live the life I want to live and be, find the apartment here and move on with my life again. To live, to I would be to be able to express my sexuality without discrimination and stigmatization so this is just what… 

Before leaving your home, what would you describe as your strengths?
That when I wanted to take the journey?

Mm hmm
Well, I wanted to take the journey is what  you mean? 

To the fact that the my strength is justified, to to be able to live my, my, my sexuality, because this is a person I am and I want to I want to be this person. So the strength, all the sense I have is how to to move on and go and live this life. Because this what I want I wanted to be safe and I was running so I couldn’t look back. I just want to go and have a safe place to be.

So how does all this makes you feel?
It is not right. Is not a right thing. It doesn’t make me feel good because no one has to go through this in your life. Everyone have the right to their sexuality. Everyone have the right to do whatever they want. This is the world I think we should believe in. And not to face all discrimination. All the stress in our life because of your sexuality I don’t think is a correct thing. So it doesn’t make me feel good. And I don’t think anyone in this world is supposed to to experience what I what I had experienced in my life.

OK, so what you have been through some really, really, really difficult. Do you feel like you have grown in any way as a result of, yeah, of of this experience or has anything at all positive come out of it?
Yes, of course. Because now I’m living the life I want, I’m safe and the experience is very, very very bad, but like I’ve been saying the same, but it makes me a stronger person now. Now, I don’t think there will be anything in this world I’ll not able to survive. Just imagine to travel all of this travel, a young boy, 17 years, go through all of this, prisons, being beaten, the world, being bullied, being locked up, being forced to do things I don’t want to do. So all of this, it makes me a strong person. I think I’ll be able to overcome anything in my life now, I’m a positive person, so. 

So what are your hopes and dreams for the future now?
Like I said, I’m trying to be a computer scientist. This is what I’m focusing on. I’m starting to go to school. I want to I want a job. So I just want to live my life that any human being should live. This is just my my dream for the future to be a good boy and live the life I want.

And we really appreciate you, yeah, and we really appreciate you answering all these questions. Is there anything you would like to add that might help the people in Europe to have a better understanding about the life of the refugee here?
Yes. Now, Europe, I think that you stop saying that we are economic migrants as for me, I’m not an economic migrant. As you can tell, I came from a very, very, very good family. Why would I leave all of these things to come to Europe just to come and suffer, to be homeless, to experience starvation? I was not a good clothes to wear, no good place to sleep. Why would I leave all of this in my country to come? I’m not saying there’s not that there are not economic migrants. Maybe they are. But to me, I don’t know, because every refugee I’ve met in this journey, they tell me horrible stories about what they’ve experienced. So I just think you should look at the bigger picture and try to understand that we are trying to be safe and see how they can help us move on with our life, because this is a human rights to be safe. Everyone should be safe in their life. So I think they should try to know more about refugees before they have been  judgmental to us. and they are not trying to help us. Just look at what is happening now in Greece. Is not easy now. And I’m recognized, they stop all of my facilities. Why why wouldn’t even why would they even do this? How do they expect me to survive day by day? It’s not an easy thing. So I just think you should open their eyes more and see. Exactly and feel sorry for us. So this is and thank you to all of you.

Thank you so much.

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.