“Here, I don’t need to apologize to anyone”
“The last time I cried was two weeks ago. I listened to Arabic music and I thought of my dead mother. The last time I laughed was … today, yes today!”
Our conversation with Hassanin, from Iraq, started sort of like this.
Iraq – Turkey – Greece. Lesvos, Malakasa, Athens. And before his final stop so far, Athens, Egypt – Lebanon – Jordan – Syria.
Hassanin talks about countries and cities, endless journeys and places, as if they were simply urban train stations. Now he can speak like that, he tells us. In each of these countries, Hassanin had to face something new and most of the time something unpleasant. The greatest wound for the 29-year-old Hassanin was what he had to face in his home country, which forced him into a future far from it.
Hassanin is gay.
This meant something like a captivating way of life – in his country, Hassanin was forced to hide, to live a double and unspoken life, where he feared his own family and their social circle, that was, and still is of great importance to his family.
Unfortunate events finally led to him facing the disapproval of his family and obliged him to apologize for who he was and what he felt. He began to fear for his life, thus making the decision to flee from Iraq and seek safety away from his family – the family that is now distant from him, and not only in kilometers.
He was forced to learn how to live in hiding but despite the obstacles, he managed to study at the University, and to then work as a journalist in a popular Iraqi newspaper. Apart from his daily job, he always found time for his hobbies too – he is a successful amateur singer, photographer and editor; a talent which led him to direct his own video clip!
As he himself states, Hassanin always kept his smile, his optimism and love for the various activities that move and motivate him, as well as the liveliness for his dreams and his future. While talking with him, all the above were shown in his smiling face. Hassanin’s brown eyes show his belief that since he has survived up to this day, he will for sure, do much better in the future. In fact, he believes in a truly beautiful future, way more beautiful than the past.
After so many geographical locations, countless survival efforts, the struggle to maintain his dignity, Hassanin lives in Athens. He managed to become close once more with two of his siblings, with whom he communicates often so they know how he is doing. However, they warn him not to go back to Iraq. It is not a place where Hassanin will be accepted in.
However, he doesn’t feel hurt; he loves them all – but from afar. Now he is only interested in his future. He is trying to learn Greek and English and doesn’t stop exploring Athens, which has become a new homeland for him. A homeland which he wants to photograph excessively and discover its secrets. Athens is a city where he feels free.
“The most beautiful experience is the sea! Yes, the sea is an amazing experience! I always have my backpack full of things that make me feel like I’m travelling. I go out and become an explorer”.
His dream is to become a photojournalist.
Another dream of his is to be able to sleep peacefully; to not be afraid of the fire anymore. This fear is a result of his stay at the refugee camp in Moria, Lesvos, and of the inhumane living conditions Hassanin and thousands of other refugees experienced.
Hassanin is gradually leaving his past behind and thinks of the future. A 29-year-old man who sees life unfolding in front of him without fear and restrictions. He confesses that he now feels like an equal and a proud member of a society where sexual orientation does not justify discrimination among humans.
Because it’s not.
*Hassanin lives 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.