“We came here, and our lives changed. Do you see the color of my mobile phone screen? It is black… My life was like that before I came here”.
Hassan and Baref are a couple and refugees.
They have known each other for many years. They have met when they were living in their country in Middle East. Today they live in one of the apartments that SolidarityNow provides to asylum seekers through its Accommodation Program. Both of them are beneficiaries of the Safe Refugee program*, the specialized assistance program for LGBTI refugees and asylum seekers. We are at the living room of their new home. Smokers sit on the balcony and smoke their last cigarette. The rest sit on the couch and talk about the weather. Hassan takes his place on the couch next to Baref, and she grabs his hand. Both sit comfortably on the couch.
Hassan and Baref speak their own secret language, like all couples do. A glance or a nod is enough to communicate with each other.
Hassan, 27-year-old, is gay and Baref, 21-year-old, is trans.
They have started out as friends and then became lovers. Love came but fear grew great. It is very strange to listen someone in 2018 saying that he cannot love freely and openly. “We wanted to go for a coffee or a trip, but we couldn’t. It had to be someone else with us. We were afraid”, says Hassan. “If you are gay, lesbian or transgender in our country you cannot come out. It is a confidential information. If someone learns the truth, the consequences would be dire”, Baref adds.
For Hassan and Baref, things began to get difficult and dangerous after an incident. They have never imagined that a pleasant night out with friends would turn into a nightmare. They have received death threats and some people tried to kill them. They had no choice but to go to the police seeking for help. “You have no rights here. We cannot help you. You have a mental illness, we were told”, says Baref. Hassan and Baref came up with the decision to leave their country against their will.
Hassan’s and Baref’s “problem” was not just their sexual orientation, but also the fact that a Sunni and a Shiite had a love relationship. Because of the above they faced problems with the society and their families. Family plays a crucial role in their society. Each family protects and supports its members. However, Hassan and Baref have been ostracized by their family. “They gave us a letter where they wrote that they do not care if someone kills us”, Hassan stresses. They didn’t want to carry such a document with them, that’s why they threw it away.
Alone but together, and with the support of the female members of their families they managed to escape. Their first stop was in Turkey, and then they paid a smuggler to get them to Greece and Lesvos island. The €2,000 for two non-return tickets were enough to book two seats in a dinghy boat packed with more than 48 refugees. On the island they faced problems because of their relationship. They asked for help and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees transferred them to SolidarityNow’s apartments. “We came here, and our lives changed. Do you see the color of my mobile phone screen? It is black… My life was like that before I came here”, Baref states.
“People here are open-minded, we have no problem, and the social worker in Safe Refugee Program helps us like all SolidarityNow team”, Hassan says and adds “we came here, and all the bad things came to an end.” The couple is trying to get adjusted in the new city. They are taking Greek language classes and trying to expand their social life. Hassan wants to find stability and get asylum in Greece and Baref, as she tells us, wants to become a transsexual.
*Hassan and Baref live in one of the SolidarityNow accommodation structures in Athens under the Safe Refugee program implemented by the organization and is part of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees ESTIA Support Program for Integration and Housing and funded by the European Union Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection (ECHO).
**Through the Safe Refugee Program, SolidarityNow provides accommodation to refugees, in independent apartments in Athens and Thessaloniki. The program’s beneficiaries receive free psychosocial support, legal counseling, they participate in educational and recreational activities, and are members of a wider support network that aims to improve their living conditions and support them during their stay in Greece.