It takes a community to tell a story

By 07/12/2021December 9th, 2021IMD

#ItTakesACommunity to tell a story

1000 Dreams is a campaign to support refugees in sharing the stories of their community – their strengths, their challenges, their dreams – for themselves. In the media, refugees are often depicted as invading hordes or helpless victims, dangerous stereotypes which ignore the diversity of the refugee experience. 1000 Dreams aims to change this by supporting refugees to reclaim the narrative. 40 refugee storytellers in Europe have been trained and mentored by Witness Change, the organization that created the 1000 Dreams campaign. These refugee Storytellers are producing 1000 portraits and interviews of other refugees on the continent.

It takes a community to tell the story of a community, it can’t be done by only outsiders. The 40 1000 Dreams Refugee storytellers who have documented the stories of their fellow refugees, have brought new stories of their community to a global stage. It is their work that helps reveal our common humanity and encourages creating a society where refugees are welcomed. Their work and stories have reached tens of millions through social media and been published in influential media outlets in the United Kingdom, Germany & Italy. They are taking back control of their narrative. These are some of those stories.

RobinaName: Robina
Current location: United Kingdom
Birth Country: Pakistan
Nationality: Pakistani

“My dream: my husband come to UK and be safe,” says Robina (54), an asylum seeker in the UK. As a religious minority in her native Pakistan, she says she and her family faced endless threats to their lives. The constant fear left her severely depressed. Things got worse when, “one day, one letter with blood write… you and your family, your daughter, this blood is your family blood.” After receiving the letter her husband insisted that she and their daughter leave. They had hoped he would be able to go with them but his visa request was denied. As she left he told her, “God wish, I see you again.” Arriving in the UK in February 2019, she felt “too much scared and afraid and depression… but day by day I talking with others womans” and started to feel, “it’s good, it’s better.” She says, “I came UK with my depression tablets, my sleeping pills, and my pain pills… but now all medicine stops.” She says, “here I feel safe. My community is safe… but I want my husband come safe, then I relax.” Photo & interview by Nour MF Jarrouj.

Cihan Korel Topal

Name: Cihan Korel Topal
Current location: United Kingdom
Birth Country: Turkey
Nationality: Kurdish

“We are people who are disliked, not counted and have no value by the state,” says 26 year old Cihan Korel Topal referring to his Kurdish identity and Alevi faith in the country of his birth -Turkey. He explains that his brother was murdered because he was Kurdish, and his family was blacklisted, and that is why he is now a refugee in The UK. “We were refugees in Turkey as well… When I came here and became a refugee it did not feel like it was something new. But it is something incredibly abrasive that tears me apart.” Despite his young age and the chance of a new beginning in London, he struggles to think very far into the future: “I have no dream now. I’m worn out.” It wasn’t just leaving his home that wore him out, but also the process of being recognised as a refugee. “I got my permission after two and a half years. And two and a half years were like fifty years that were taken from my life. It became so heavy for me.” Despite all this, he says, “I live with hope every day.” Photo & interview by Sarya Tunc.

Leticia & Immaculate

Name: Leticia & Immaculate
Current location: United Kingdom
Birth Country: Uganda
Nationality: Ugandan

Leticia’s Story:
“My dream is to get my status and get the house with my girlfriend,” says Leticia (63), a Ugandan asylum seeker living in the United Kingdom. Leticia fled Uganda after her husband found her being intimate with another woman. “The people came, start beating, beating. I ran away,” she said. “It didn’t feel good. And you can’t even go back in his house. He can even kill you.” Leticia now stays with a friend, goes to church and attends an LGBTQI+ group. “Joining the groups make us so strong,” she says. Her children are still in Uganda. She misses them. When things get really difficult, she calls her girlfriend. “We console each other,” she says. She wants people to know that, “those people who do not like a gay people, they have to take us as we are.” As for life now in the UK, she says “With my girlfriend, holding each other… you can kiss on the street, which you can’t do back home.” She says being in the UK is better. Here, she says; “I feel free.” Photo & interview by Nour MF Jarrouj.

Immaculate’s Story:
“My dream now is to get my refugee status and get a house. And I be with my girlfriend. We hope to get married soon.” Asylum seeker, Immaculate (66), left Uganda after being “caught” with the woman she loved. “I am forced into marriage,” she explains, “but we used to see each other.” She was beaten and told she was cursed. “I had to run away,” she says, “I was helpless.” She came to the UK for her son’s graduation but didn’t seek asylum for “a long, long time” as she feared being sent back. “It was very bad for me,” she says, “I was getting nightmares.” Joining an African LGBT group in the UK has brought her happiness and her girlfriend is also a source of “joy always.” But while Immaculate feels “free in the heart” in the UK, she says she’s “still in the struggle” because she has to hide her relationship from the Ugandans she lives with. “I just want to be with my girlfriend… I know one day when the day will come, and we shall be together in one house.” Photo & interview by Nour MF Jarrouj.

Obaid Allah Alam

Name: Obaid Allah Alam
Current location: United Kingdom
Birth Country: Afghanistan
Nationality:  British

“We had some big thing in our mind, which was negative things.”  Obaid Allah Alam (56) says he was afraid when he and his family arrived as refugees in the UK from Afghanistan in 2001. He says “We were thinking that what will happen to our future, our children future?”  but it was important “that we should raise our children for the good future.” He uses the analogy of being in a tunnel to describe the challenge of re-starting life in a new country “If I sit in a tunnel, I will be die in the black tunnel… If I go forward, I will come out… I will see the light,” he says. “I have to work. I have to struggle. I have to do.” He got a job and earned a degree and now his children are also becoming educated. “Slowly, slowly, we built up our life.” Despite his achievements, he says he “still belong(s) to Afghanistan.” He dreams of returning one day, when the fighting has stopped. “My dream is when my country become, when my country become free… and to build my country, to help my people.” Photo & interview by Osama Gaweesh.

Alaa Mohamed Alsiddiq

Name: Alaa Mohamed Alsiddiq
Current location: United Kingdom
Birth Country: United Arab Emirates
Nationality: Emirati

“I don’t like to be addressed as a refugee,” says Alaa Mohamed Alsiddiq (31), an activist from the United Arab Emirates, now in London. She prefers to be addressed “as a survivor, as a human being.” Alaa left the UAE, facing government persecution for her political activities. Many of her peers were arrested. “I didn’t feel safe there,” she recounts. Her Emirati citizenship was withdrawn, an obstacle which made her feel “that I’m punished, being in an exile just for asking for my basic rights… I really love my country, so I want to represent it. And I want to see a change to see it improve, to see the development.” She is currently seeking asylum in the UK, where she feels she has a “wonderful life.” Her experiences have taught her to “live in the moment” and to be strong and self-reliant, she says. She dreams of getting a PhD in a political field, painting, and continuing to work in advocacy- “until something change and I will go back to my country and I will be a minister for foreign affairs.” Photo & interview by Hossam Sarhan.

Noah Salibo

Name: Noah Salibo
Current location: United Kingdom
Birth Country: Sudanese
Nationality: Sudanese

“My dream’s quite big, literally, as I want to be a doctor.” says Noah Salibo (30), a refugee in London. Noah says he fled war in Darfur and the threat of arrest after he joined protests against the al-Bashir government: “My life became in danger, so I left Sudan without finishing my course.” Noah made an incredibly difficult journey, crossing several countries and the Sahara. “When we were crossing the desert we ran out of water.” He made it to the UK where he’s enjoying life: playing sport, acting in plays and resuming his studies. Still, “I miss home a lot,” he says. “Sometimes being alone, the way other people look at you. You know? ‘You are refugees!’” But Noah considers himself lucky. His brother died in Egypt, he says, because of a lack of medicine. Now his dream is to build a hospital and call it Noah’s Ark – a place where anyone can get medicine. Noah says his life is now starting again: “Any one of us has got unlimited resilience, you know, to achieve his ambition in life.” Photo & interview by Hagir Elhadi.

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