Mohammad Reza Hosseini: My name is HOPE

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I’m Mohammad Reza Hosseini, 19 years old refugee from Afghanistan.
This is My Story.

The story actually begins 40 years ago, before I was born, when Former Soviet Union attacked Afghanistan. At that time my father was a second year student at the University and Army of Former Soviet Union was taking all the young Afghan people in their troops and forced them to fight against Afghan government and Afghan people. One of the professors took a mini bus for his students and secretly sent them to Iran. For many days nobody knew where my father was, not even his family. The terror continued, soldiers were entering all the houses, taking and abusing girls so my grandfather sent my mother with her sister to Iran. My uncles were already there, escaping from the war. Everyone was escaping to Iran since it is the nearest country and Islamic republic.

So, I was born in Iran and I haven’t actually seen Afghanistan. I just took the nationality of my parents at birth. I was born in a busy family. We are family of 9 persons, with a lot of children – 5 girls and 2 boys. All of us have the highest level of education that one refugee could have. I have studied natural science.

We escaped from the cruelty of war, but the life in Iran was also cruel in a different way. There is no war in Iran, the whole world knows that it is the most safe country in the Western Asia. But the truth is – they don’t like refugees, don’t want to accept them and they don’t give any opportunities to refugees to progress. Let me tell you what it means on everyday basis.

My whole world

In Iran we didn’t have regular documents, only something like ID card that shows our country of origin and city where we live now. As people from Afghanistan living in Teheran we couldn’t go  anywhere else. If we wanted to go to the other cities in Iran we needed to pay for additional papers and then we could go. We couldn’t buy a car and drive. We couldn’t buy a house for ourselves. We couldn’t even work, that’s why we were working secretly. If the Afghan refugees wanted to go to school they needed to pay a lot of money and at the end of the day – we couldn’t even buy a SIM card. All of this is a just a small part of all the difficulties my life in Iran.
Photo: Jenny Tolou

Maybe someone thinks: what a 19 years old person knows about the hardships of life? But I must say that I have experienced all the problems and hardships in life. It’s not about the age, it’s all about the knowledge and understanding of the situation.

I know that no one could even understand how hard was for my parents to sent us to school and provide enough money every year to pay all the expenses. At the beginning my father was the only one who was working, but when I was 11 years old I understood that our family needs help so I started working in tailor factories. After four years we opened our own family factory and since we didn’t have any workers my family worked together. It was a small “family business”, three or four Tailor machines which my father and I were working on and sometimes my sisters helped us. As I have mentioned before, all that was hidden and complete secret. Our factory was downstairs in the basement because if people from Municipality have seen us they would confiscate all the machines and we should pay a lot of money. I was going to school from 7am until 1pm and then worked from 2pm until 10pm. But after that time, my life starts. My dearest hobby in Iran was football. Football was not only hobby but my whole world. I usually played football after work, from 10pm until 1am or 2 am. Whenever I was sad, angry or disappointed, whenever I was so tired of hard work or had some fights with my friends or family the only thing that could make me calm was football. It doesn’t matter what time, early mornings or late at night.

Photo: Martin Humphreys

On the line of life and death

One day the family decided it was enough, we needed to go. Four months before we left Iran, one of my sisters left Iran and when we started our journey she was already in Germany.  When we decided to leave our main goal was Germany. We knew that we will have a lot of problems on the way, but we were ready to stand for each other and solve all the problems together until we arrive to our destination.

From one side Turkish police, from the other side Iranian police and in the middle – refugees. Hopeless situation.

On the 9th of February 2016 we started the most terrible and unforgettable experience in our lives. We didn’t say anything to anyone, not even my sister. I clearly remember that night: the 9th of February when we arrived to the border between Iran and Turkey. What a terrible moments… Who could describe it and who could even believe that something like that can happen! We spent about 10 scary nights between those two borders, in the mountains, jungle and rivers, without any food and only with water because during the first night we have lost all our bags with clothes and food. During those 10 nights more than 5 times we have passed the border of Iran through deep rivers, mountain and desert. Each time we tried to cross the border Turkish police would caught us and sent us back to Iran. One time we crossed a terrible river and arrived to the Turkish border when Turkish police caught us. The weather was really cold and all of our clothes were wet. We were freezing but they still kept us about five or six hours torturing us because they thought it would distract us from the idea of trying again. Clothes became ice and many people had lost their fingers and legs because of the cold. When they finally sent us back to the border of Iran, police of Iran was there saying “If one of you come here we will shoot all of you”. From one side Turkish police, from the other side Iranian police and in the middle – refugees. Hopeless situation, but we never gave up and finally, after 10 stressful days full of problems, we arrived to Turkey. We have spent 5 days on the border waiting for smugglers to take us to Istanbul and then 12 more days in Istanbul waiting for smugglers because all the time the weather was windy, it was raining with thunder and storms. And then, THAT day has finally come. We were ready to get into the most difficult part of the trip – the sea. Angry and hungry sea was waiting for us. We were on one small boat together with 90 people more – babies, children, pregnant women and many people with physical disabilities. When I got on the boat and we embarked on the sea I held my head down all the time because I’m so afraid of the water. But I knew our goal at that point – Greece. After three hours on the sea Turkish police came to catch us. They had something in their hands, something like sparks and tried to destroy our boat. They were making big waves with their ship near our boat. All the police officers were taking videos and laughing and when women started shouting they were laughing even more. We were terrified. Fortunately we managed to escape and finally arrived to the Greece border  where one big ship came and took us to Lesbos. We stayed in Lesbos for about three days for registering and finally on the 10th of March 2016 we arrived to Athens – the place we believed would enable us to achieve our dreams.

Photo: Mohammad Reza Hosseini

Surviving in refugee camps

Situation was not good at all first few months. We were living in the small tents without any electricity and heating or cooling system. We spent 9 months in the tents dealing with all the problems. Sometimes, tents were destroyed because of heavy storms and too much rain. The food was cold and not good. After 9 months of closing their eyes and tolerating bad situation in camps they brought us containers but one month later there was no electricity again and we were using gas to make ourselves warm.  Today, after about a year and seven months situations is better. We are getting some money every month, although it’s not enough it is useful. But we never thought that we would stay this long here. Now we are all confused and disappointed and don’t know what to do. We had a chance to reconnect with my sister but it was unsuccessful. We found her but she couldn’t do anything.

I’m not like some people that say we want to become like Messi or Ronaldo. I’m Mohammad Reza and I’m trying so hard to fulfill my dreams and believe in myself

THE HOPE

One day I was training alone in the camp. Mr. George Triandafilidis saw me training and said that I have talent for football. That day he promised to help me and he did. He took me in the “HOPE REFUGEE TEAM”. This team is founded by Mr. Antonis Nikopolidis, the former Greece goalkeeper and winner of the European Cup 2004 in Athens who played for the Olympiacos. I have to mention organization “Earth Refugees” and Mr.Petros Kokkalis, the vice President of Piraeus. What a great organization! They are doing their best to help the refugees by creating a lot of educational and sports activities, finding job etc. The manager of this organization, Mrs. Katerina Salta is a person with the biggest heart that I’ve ever seen. What a character! She has made so many friendships with refugees in this period; she is always ready to help and really makes people hopeful. I can say she is the most inspirational person I’ve ever seen, like a guardian angel for all of us.

So in November 2016 I joined the team. We have trainings three times a week and lunch after the trainings. Until now we did more than 30 matches including friendly matches and matches in champion’s competition. From 27th of August to the 2th of September we were invited by academy of Olympic for participation in the 3rd “Imagine peace youth camp” and also from 4th to 6th of September we were invited to the conference of Harvard University that Olympiacos club was hosting. On the 6th of September we did a match against the legends of Olympiacos like Lilian Thuram, Christian Karembeu, Antonis Nikopolidis, Darko Kovačević, Petros Kokkalis and many others.
Photo: Martin Humphreys

The most important thing that “Hope Team” gave to me was opportunity to meet and make friendships with people from different countries and cultures, like people from Syria, Palestine, Morocco, Iraq, Yemen and Uganda. It was amazing experience. Now we are training for the new season with a wish to participate with all our power.

My dreams…

Now I feel that I can make them true. There are always people who will tell you that you can’t make your dreams come true, but they only increase my motivation. I want to show them that when people that live their lives without problems and heartache and make their dreams come true they don’t need to do something extra to achieve that but when people like refugees fulfill their dreams they are stars!

My only dream now is football, the opportunity to play in the highest level of football. I’m not like some people that say we want to become like Messi or Ronaldo. I’m Mohammad Reza and I’m trying so hard to fulfill my dreams and believe in myself.

Photo: Jenny Tolou

I want to appreciate the most important people that helped me and support me: first of all, my parents and my family that helped my improvement although we are in bad conditions. MR. George Triandafilidis for taking me in HOPE team. MR. Antonis Nikopolidis, MR. Petros Kokkalis and Mrs. Katerina Salta who made this team and give opportunities to refugees for at least having fun and making friendships and they are giving strength to team with all their power and love. And at the end my dear brother and dear sister MR.Stefanos Konomi and Mrs. Anna Stillo who always support me in every situation and help me to solve my problems.

Written by: Mohammad Reza Hosseini
Editors: Nemanja Marinović, Branislav Bokur

 

International conference: The Global Human Rights Forums