About Refugees, By Refugees

Portrait of refugee Zol wearing a floppy hat that hides the face


Pictures taken in:



Photo and interview by:

United Kingdom



Nina Sedaghati

“You feel like everything has changed to zero for you and you need to work hard for five to six years or ten years until you reach the position you were in, in your own country,” says Zol (pseud, 32), recalling her experience of arriving in the UK from Iran as a political refugee. “The first three to four years pass very hard,” she says. But “I was a hopeful person, and never lost my hope.” Before leaving Iran, Zol’s dream “was to become free and go somewhere where I can be myself.” She explains that in Iran people “direct you to a way to be a good person, but they direct you so much that you lose your own way.” While she misses the “warmth of people” in Iran, she’s grateful that in Europe “you can be yourself.” Today her wish is “to be a valuable person for my society, even for Iran,” and for​ “every woman, every human to follow their own ideology, their own beliefs, their own interests, and discover their own talents… My dream is to spread this feeling among the people of my country.”

Trigger Warning:

full interview

Hello friend. I am going to start by introducing myself first. I am Nina Sadaghati and I help the Witness Change group for the 1000 Dreams project. The goal of this project is to write a thousand stories about a thousand immigrants so that we can provide a better picture of the immigrants to the United Nations. One important point is that you need to know that your identity can remain hidden if you do not like it to be shared. We have some forms that you need to sign. It has been written in these forms whether you agree, so that no problem appears for you and for us in the future. You are free to not answer any question and if you didn’t like a question, tell me to move to the next question. We will sign the forms now and will start the interview. So where do you live now? Although I know that it has been a long time that you live far from your home. Tell how many years have you been living here and where do you live?
Now it has been ten years since I left Iran. I currently live in London with my family. And … that is it.

So you have a private home? A private home with your family?

Can you please explain a little bit about what you do now and what your job is?
Well, I do accounting now. Accounting for films and series. I do project work in these areas. But it has been three years since I started doing it. I used to study before that and I used to do some other activities too, part time jobs. But it has been three years since I started doing this job, after I finished my studies.

Did you start learning any skill the time you arrived here or not? How many years later did you start working and what happened that you entered into film making or accounting in film making?
First of all, when I arrived here, I had a different mindset. I wanted to go to university. I wanted to study. Then… due to some problems from which the first one was doing immigration and things like that which took me three years. I learned the language in these three years. I wanted to improve my language because I couldn’t go to university. Because we didn’t have any response or our immigration situation was not complete.

You were in an asylum state?
Yes. We were not registered yet. Well, people do not lose their hope in these three years and do something else. So I studied the language.

So it means you didn’t lose your hope?
No. Because you really don’t know how long it will take. You don’t lose your hope and you stay hopeful for the news to come. I studied the language during that time. After we received our answer, I was able to choose a course and studied my course. That time you can also pick up a course immediately but you can’t go to university. But you can pick up a course at least at that time that I was here, you could do it. I don’t know how it is now. Then I picked a course, accounting course. My goal was to study accounting and do accounting jobs but after I studied accounting and passed its course, I got introduced to film with the help of a friend. Then I took another course which was for film making and accounting. Then that way, I could enter this job. And the reason that I could enter this field was that there was a very kind Iranian who helped me a lot and instructed me very much because it is really hard when you first come here and choose your way. Because the system is totally different from Iran, work is different, the way you want to enter somewhere is different. If a person is either Iranian or any other nationality, much better if that is Iranian, can show you the way and light your life, is a very big help. And I am always thankful to that lady who helped me.

So you took a course and entered into accounting?
That is right.

Before that when you did not have received your response yet, you were studying the language?
After that, I started a part time job in the cosmetic stores in London.

So it was clear for you what to do and you had set goals for yourself from the time you came here?
Yes. I had set my goals and I was obliged to go through that way until everything was provided so I could reach that goal. At that time the steps that I was taking …

What were your feelings in those moments?
It is not a beautiful feeling. First of all, one of the bad feelings when you first enter a different society is that you will be ten years younger in terms of communicating with others or having a position. I was feeling that I had turned to being 15 or 14 years old when we had come here. I was feeling like a child who needed someone to help her and guide her and who has no friends, who is alone. I was feeling like that person who needed help. You are like you know nothing and don’t know anywhere. You know no one and have no friends and it is only you and yourself. Although I was with my family …

Feeling to be alone?
Feeling to be alone and feeling like you know nothing. You feel like you need to start everything from zero. You feel like everything has changed to zero for you and you need to work hard for five to six years or ten years until you reach the position you were in, in your own country.

How do you spend your time now?
I’m going to work. Then during the hours that I don’t go to work, I spend time with my family, I do exercise, my favorite sport is tennis. I was going to tennis classes as much as I could and I was playing tennis with my friends. Or, I like walking in the evenings. I was also walking to my work place. I watch movies, I like movies and I watch movies for one hour in the night before I go to bed. Then my favorite activity is cooking and making cake, that I rarely do that because I don’t have the time.

From the time you reached Europe, what do you think, what things have changed? What was good and what was bad? I mean from the time you came here; did you ever think of what is different here than Iran? What things are good and what things are bad? Do you think that there are some good things that are in Iran but that you couldn’t find here?
Well, the things we don’t have here are the family, friends, the good culture of Iranians, the warmth among people, the good memories that you have grown up with in Iran but you no more have them when you come to Europe. You no more have them and you cannot have them. The good point about here is that you know yourself in Europe and you can be yourself. You are very comfortable that I don’t know either it is because of … a big part is because of our culture, because of the social norms, because of the incidents that happen around us that limit us not be ourselves. Some other parts are because of the family cultures that don’t let you be yourself. But when you come to Europe… you can be yourself. And that you are allowed to, either from a social perspective or family perspective, no one pokes a nose into your business. you can… In Iran, socially and from a family perspective, they direct you to a way to be a good person but they direct you as much as you lose your own way. When some people come here and are set free, they find out that they are much better than the person they were directed to being a good person in Iran. Most of the Iranian people … Iranians have a good habit of not letting the good habits in their children bloom. Because they come and take them by force in a way that they think is good from their own perspective. But the young Iranians are very good themselves, very civilized, very active, futuristic, and hard-working. I can see a lot of young Iranians who come here. Although we come here and live in a hard situation, with some of the conditions that I said before like thinking to start from zero when they come here. Most of the young people who have been here for a long time, are having better opportunities and have become more successful. So why do we make these young people to not be themselves while they can be so good by themselves.

So living here has created a positive feeling in you?
It has been a very positive feeling.

Can you tell us the feeling you had at that time when you had newly come here? although a long time has passed. Do you remember how you felt when you came here? Or this feeling has been built in these ten years or you had it from the beginning? Like you were satisfied from the time you entered here. The hard times that you had overcome, had you gained this perspective at that time or no, it happened step by step?
Ahmmm from what perspective?

Like when you talk about Europe and say it provides more opportunities that were not in Iran and you came here and found it here. Did you find this opportunity from the beginning of the time you came here or was it created by the time passing?
Well I had some expectations. Like, for example, if I go there I will be more comfortable and there are more facilities and things like that. But actually when you come here, if you really really want to do something, there are more opportunities for you to improve, it is more than you had expected. If you really want to do something, there is a lot of support if you really want. There are a lot of works in Iran that people want to do from the bottom of their heart but there is no right situation or opportunity for that. But here, it is hard, I don’t say it is easy. Because so many things are here and you need to afford yourself financially, you are alone mentally, but it is possible.

Have you ever thought of coming here, being in this position and becoming an immigrant? Have you ever thought of this issue before?
No, before I come here?
No, no. I had no plan to come here. I wouldn’t think of going anywhere and seeking asylum.

When you first came here, how did the word immigrant make you feel?
Immigration is … a sad project. When you come, you will be labelled as an immigrant. The fear from others perspective about immigration … even I myself was an immigrant and I have come through this path, this project. The perspective is that … an immigrant is someone who is … weak, needs help… and in some perspectives, the immigrants are those who are hungry, who are poor, which is not like this. Because I have seen other immigrants too. I have seen others; I have been an immigrant. Iranian immigrants are those who are not war-torn now, or … I don’t know, they are not poor, they are educated. Ahm … Iranian immigrants are those who are somewhat captivated, you know. Captivated by Iran, captivated by the demands from the society that they want to escape from that. And when they come to escape … to express their beliefs, express their sadness and criticize the society, they face a lot of tough problems that force them to come out. When they come here, one of their concerns is that people have a negative perspective towards them. or ahmm … they look at them as poor people or a person who is not educated. This is while we have seen them ourselves that they are all educated and have a really good culture. They are the healthy people of the society who have come here.

Do you think the way you have come here, the immigration way, helped you grow? Like when you were in Iran and have lived there and now that you have come out of Iran and become an immigrant. Do you think this path has helped you become mature and learn more? Or no, it wouldn’t make a difference even if you were in Iran? Have these paths helped you or not?
It has helped a lot. I have reached the things that I wanted and had in my head. It is right that the first three to four years pass very hard. It is very hard and it passes very slowly. But when you pass that stage, you reach a point that you have an ascending improvement and you will reach the goals that you have immigrated for. It takes a little bit of time. It has a really bad feeling at the beginning because you go three to four years backward from what you were in your country, Iran. But when you pass that three to four years, you work hard, take the steps towards your goals, when you pass that period, you will get into the comfort stage, in my opinion. You will be at ease.

Has corona had any impact in this situation? So the corona came and people are living in a society, some people are immigrants and some are not. What do you think, has Corona affected you as an immigrant?
Corona and my immigration?

Suppose if you were an immigrant because I don’t think so since you have been here for a long time. Because you were an immigrant, like its impact on your work. Has corona affected your job from the time it has started? Or, has it created a positive or negative circumstance?
It has created a negative circumstance because I have lagged behind in my job, I have lost my job and I was forced to apply to other jobs. But, not only me but every human, it has affected every immigrant in the society.

When you came here I said you were 25 years old?
I was 22 years old.

22 years old. So generally why … By the way, these questions belong to the secondary questions that you do not need to answer if you don’t want to. Why did you leave your country? Why did you leave Iran?
Ahhhh … I left Iran because of my family because I myself didn’t have a lot of problems but since my father had gotten a problem …

You were forced to leave Iran?
We were forced to leave Iran. Then I came with my family because I am a girl and girls are obliged to live with their families and it was because of my father. Because we knew that after my father, we are the next who will be in trouble and face the problems. That is why the whole family left.

Did you agree that time? Or you couldn’t say anything because of your father, and you had to?
I was not satisfied with the conditions in Iran.

No, agreeing to leave Iran.
That is what I am trying to say. I was not convinced with Iran’s situation but since that happened so quickly, I was a bit shocked to get out of Iran but it was not like being dissatisfied from the bottom of my heart.

How did you reach Europe?
Ahmmm. Can we move to the next question?

What was your feeling?
Feeling … the first time we came?

No, during your trip.
Feeling afraid, confused, you don’t know what is going to happen to you, you feel like your life is going to change completely, and it is really like this.

Did the feeling of fear, confusion and the situation you passed to come to Europe, affected your future? Or for example, could you solve it after that? The pressure that you experienced to reach here?
The stress remains in our body for a period of time. And… well, it is a very important condition in our life, the fact that your life is totally changing from one side to another. But, the positive consequence can be, you can tell yourself that you have accepted all the hardships so why shouldn’t I fix my life again, why shouldn’t I work harder to compensate for the fear that I experienced.

How did you overcome the hard situations when you didn’t have any answer in the first three years? The things that you said like people’s perspectives towards immigrants. Also, you didn’t have any answer for three years and everything should’ve been hard to reach … Even passing the course should’ve had a story. How did you pass it? What was your strategy?
I had hope in my life. I was a hopeful person and never lost my hope. And, seeing some other people who have passed the same situation, helps you a lot. You know that if they succeed in passing it, you can also do it. And always… suppose myself, I am both hopeful for the future and I also provide some context for myself like if it didn’t work, there is another way. For example, I say I will go and work somewhere, especially at a time when I didn’t have any answer or a job, I will study the language. I tell myself, if it doesn’t work here, I can do something else by learning the language. There is always hope. You need to be hopeful until you are alive. But the people around you can very much help you. Fortunately, Iranians help each other. Although some of them make the situation hard for you, others help a lot in terms of guiding you and showing you the way. Most of them show you the right way.

Before you left your home, what was your dream?
Before I left the house, my dream was to become free and go somewhere where I can be myself, to go somewhere where I can improve myself. My dream was to keep distance from the fake should and shouldn’t of society. A society that wants to put everyone into one path by force and that fortunately they have reached that goal.

What is your dream now for your future?
My dream … Everyone’s dream is to become successful. Everyone wants to be successful according to their own taste and what is success to them. I love to be successful and make progress in my work, for my society … I have two houses now. One is here and the other is in Iran, … I want to be a valuable person for my society, even for Iran. The fact that I feel to be a valuable person, be a useful person and be almost a successful person, can be … I want to show this to Iranian women and girls – that going your own path helps you a lot … because when you want to be yourself, when you want to do something that you like and have the confidence to do it, this confidence helps you be more successful in your work. When you are successful in your work, when others who know that you are successful and want to follow you, they know that if you go your own path, if you don’t get hopeless, if you do not consider the “must and must not” of the society, you become more successful. I want our society’s women, Iranian women, every woman, a woman who is under pressure and they want to change their mindset. I want every woman, every human, even men, to follow their own ideology, their own beliefs, their own interests, and discover their own talents. I love … My dream is to spread this feeling among the people of my country.

Thank you very much for letting us interview you and if you have any questions, you are welcome to ask.
No, I have no question and I thank you, good bye.

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.