Let us introduce our dear friend of the Seats2Meet network – Salam. Coming to Europe as a refugee from Iraq, Salam has faced many struggles along his way. However, despite his difficult life journey, he succeeded at becoming a painter and continues to tell his story of an asylum seeker in his drawings. His goal is to tell everyone what it is like to live a refugee life, how he feels, and how hard it is to fight for a better and safer life. Salam has taken up painting while he is living in Greece and waiting for his family’s asylum case to be processed. At the moment, he has created over 70 paintings and had exhibitions in Switzerland, Spain, Washington, Netherlands, Germany and England. Salam also plays three instruments; Saz, Oud, and Guitar, and plays music everyday, as a way to express his feelings and frustrations. He compares his painting to playing music: “It’s just a way for us to express ourselves, to have our voices heard, and to show that we refugees, paint, play music, we are just like you, in the end, we are all just human beings”. You can see more of his work on Salam Noah ART and his website.
“I am 28 years old and I am from Iraq. I was living in Baadre village in Kurdistan, with my family of 14 members. We were living in difficult material conditions and were threatened because we are Yazidi, an ethnic minority. Despite of this, we managed to go to school and study there successfully. I studied for six years and completed the primary school. But then I had to stop studying because we couldn’t afford the fees. Also, I needed to earn money to support my family. Therefore, I started working in order to give my brothers and sisters the opportunity to finish their studies.
Ten years later, after they all graduated and got jobs of their own, I decided to continue my studies. But because it had been ten years since I left school, I was not allowed to go to school anymore. That is why I started to study at home. I was studying hard and working at the same time, with no teacher to teach me. Unfortunately I had no money to pay the teachers, as I gave all the money I earned to my family. However, I didn’t give up and continued to study on my own. Finally, after many years, I completed high school. I was so happy that I couldn’t believe it, because my dream finally became true. All of this was thanks to my mother. She supported me the whole time and pushed me to continue my studies.
Because my average was not very high, I couldn’t go to University yet, and had to wait one more year. But after that year, I was finally accepted to the Faculty of Education and Arabic in Kurdistan. The University was far from our home, about one hour’s drive away, and I had to pay 220 US dollars for the car driver every month. This amount was too much for me, but my brothers told me that it was important that I complete my education. They said: “You stopped your studies because of us and now we want to help you achieve your dream”. I finally went to the University, and I was very proud of that. I finished my first year, and I was one of the best students. I was also in the top ten list for the second and third years.
The fourth year was to be my last year. I only had two more months to graduate. But one day, when I came back from the University, I heard my family talking that we had to leave Iraq and go to a safer country. When I heard this I was in shock and couldn’t believe it. I knew if we left, I would not graduate and make my dreams come true. But I had no choice, I had to go with them.
The decision was to leave, but first, we had to find a way to collect the money to make the journey. Because we are a big family, we needed a lot to pay the smugglers. We decided to sell our house to a smuggler who promised to take us to a safe country in Europe. Our house, the house we had built with our own hands, and which we had worked on for two years, day and night. We had dreamt of this house for a long time. It was the only thing we had, and now we had to sell it. My father found a smuggler and told him: “We will give you our house if you take us to a safe country”. The smuggler accepted the offer and we sold him our house. We also had some goods and furniture in our house which we sold too. Because we were under the pressure to leave as quickly as possible, we had no time to bargain properly and sold our goods very cheap.
Then we started to prepare for the long journey ahead. I went to my University for the last time, to say goodbye to my friends. I told them that I was sorry to leave, but I had no choice. There were tears in my eyes when I left the University, because I was about to give up on my dream.
On the 9th of February 2016 we traveled to Turkey. We stayed in Turkey for about a month, trying to cross the Bulgarian border six times but we couldn’t. The family was tired and suffering, and we decided to find another way; to try crossing the sea by boat to Greece. We spent one month trying to cross, during which we suffered physically and mentally. After trying three times, we finally made it and we reached Lesvos Island on the 6th of March. We stayed in Mytilene for six days, and then we were taken to Ritsona Refugee Camp. We had been in Ritsona Camp ever since. We didn’t have money for a boat, so some of our relatives gave us about €25000.
My father and mother, with seven of my brothers and sisters were relocated to France on the 20th of September. But I was married and coming with my wife. One of my brothers was also married with a son. Both our families were considered independent from my parents, and so we were not relocated with them. After 6 months five of us were also relocated to France. Now we live in a village Forbach close to German border.