Pictures of hope

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Text by Romy Bornscheuer, translated by Cati Ana Moragues, photos by Yousif Al Shewaili

After surviving the dangerous journey from Turkey to Greece I was full of hope. The only thing I could think of was that I was finally safe, that I would be free and able to build my future, to fulfil my dreams.

Searching for dreams in the dark

I couldn’t achieve these dreams at home and that was one of the many reasons why I decided to leave. I hadn’t made it easy for myself, I had always tried to achieve my goals at home, but when you’re struggling to survive, there’s no room for dreams.

When I left Iraq, I was convinced that a refugee has the right to hope.

When I arrived, the bus brought me from the coast to a seemingly unreal place. A place that felt like a prison, actually even worse. It was the refugee camp called Moria. I’ll never forget how I was put into a huge tent, the registration center; people of all ages, from different countries, speaking different languages, men and women, they were all crammed together. The only thing we had in common – our journey through the sea and the many memories that we had to leave behind. After a week of suffering, uncertainty, very little sleep and almost no food, I was brought to a tent at the top of a hill. It felt like even the hill hated us. The ground was hard and the surroundings dirty. I put the only few things I had left in the tent and started to look for an explanation for what was happening. I was shocked, there didn’t seem to be anything positive in the world around me. I had to find out that there were gangs and thieves in the camp and then I realized that Europe wasn’t a safe place for me either. Everyone was just telling me: “Be careful, especially when it’s dark.”

Yousif Al Shewaili is a professional photographer currently living in Greece. He fled his home in Iraq three years ago. At the time he was a minor, now he tells the stories and hopes of other refugees.

Asylum seeking reality

At the time, I thought a lot about what I had gone through, I tried to come to terms with myself and often wondered if I would ever be able to fulfill my dreams. When I closed my eyes, I tried to think about the beautiful things in my life.

Then I had to go to the EASO, the European Asylum Support Office in Greece, which deals with the asylum procedure. They gave me an appointment and when the time came, I was again full of hope that I would be soon leaving this place of misery and that I would finally be able to achieve my dreams. I waited for three hours until a woman came and told me from the other side of the fence: “Your asylum interview is in 1.5 years.” It felt like I had been slapped in the face. I was stunned, I was so shocked by what had just happened that I ran out of words, I turned around and went back to my tent up the hill. At the time my only thoughts were: how will I survive? How will I get food? How will I protect myself? But there were no answers. All I could hear was my ears beeping as if I had been slapped in the face. My dreams vanished in the background. Deep fear took over.

“Be careful, especially when it’s dark.”

One night I had a rheumatic attack, I couldn’t move my hands or feet. It started raining and I was freezing. After a while my tent started to get wet, my clothes were wet and my pain got worse, but I couldn’t move. I closed my eyes and started to cry silently. The following morning some other refugees found me and brought me down the hill, to the clinic in the camp. I had to wait for a long time because women, children and older people have priority, regardless of their health condition. I couldn’t stand the pain, I just wanted to give up, but then it was my turn. I entered a white room and explained to the doctors what had happened. They gave me some medicines but when I asked what they were, the doctor told me that those were not the medicines I actually needed. They told me that the medicines had been donated and the ones I needed were not there. I was so disappointed; again, I saw my future fading away. All I remember thinking was: how will I cope with the pain? I had no dreams anymore, I had to fight for my survival again. Instead of studying and having a safe life in Europe, I had to worry about not having enough money or food. I didn’t have any drinking water in the tent and to get water, you have to queue for hours. I had lost all hope, I had no papers, no work permit and no means to rent a place.

I went through hell until, many months later, I finally held the positive decision for my asylum application in my hands.

Yousif and his “adoptive father”, his second family in Moria.

Never giving up

My story is just one among many other and while I’m telling it now, thousands of other people keep fighting for their sheer survival —here, in Europe.

Now I would like to share our stories with the world, tell about our suffering without taking away people’s dignity. I would like to show the problems which we are confronted with every day. There are too many young people whose dreams are stolen in Moria.

I feel grateful for the small rays of hope in my life, for being able to help others with my pictures. But I keep struggling every day, sometimes my head just shuts down and I suppress my memories. Then I feel great emptiness.

Many say that it’s a battle already lost, that there’s no hope for people here. But I won’t give up.

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