“At seventeen I was a refugee and a volunteer worker at the same time”

Tue, 27/11/2018 - 10:58


Interview. We spoke to Amin Hadian, an Iranian in Barcelona seeking political asylum after spending time in Greece, where he did volunteer work with fellow refugees.

Things are good for Amin now. Having fled his country out of fear and tackled a journey full of obstacles, we spoke to him at a point when he’s found a degree of peace. He feels sheltered in Barcelona. So much so that at the moment he has no intention of carrying on his journey to Canada, the destination he dreamed of when he left his country. He’s studying at a secondary school, even though he still needs to learn Catalan properly. He speaks English well and transmits lots of energy though, and he wants to carry on doing volunteer work to help people like himself.

Amin, what was such a young man doing fleeing his country on his own at just 17?

Well in my country, Iran, there were certain things I couldn’t do. The government there doesn’t permit certain behaviour which I could see nothing wrong in. I started publishing real things which were happening, things which could help people. They started coming down on me and punishing me, and that’s why I had to leave.

How did you get to Barcelona?

It was a coincidence. I was on my way to Canada. I actually tried to leave Spain and I wasn’t able to. Luckily, because there’s more capacity here and more than anything there’s more of a will to take in refugees like me. Our situation, despite the obvious uncertainty of seeking international protection, is more stable in Catalonia, particularly in Barcelona.

What route did you take and what was the journey like to get here?

The truth is it was long and cumbersome. I went to Turkey, spent time in Greece and then a period in Italy. From there I came to Spain to try and travel to Canada. I wasn’t able to continue. I’m fine here now. I’ve requested asylum in Spain but maybe in the future I’ll go to Canada.

I thought that if somebody had made me happy by selflessly taking me in, maybe I could also make others happy.

How come you were doing volunteer work while you were still a refugee?

I was sleeping rough in Greece and one day I bumped into a girl I knew from one of the organisations there, Khora, and I told her I couldn’t handle it any more. She pulled some strings and found some people who took me in. I felt that if they helped me, I had to return the gesture somehow. I thought that if somebody had made me happy by selflessly taking me in, maybe I could also make others happy. I’m convinced that if you can put some happiness in somebody’s life, that person will want to share it and do something for others in return.

That was when I became a translator for the organisation. Many Afghan people arriving in Athens didn’t speak English and with me speaking Persian and English I was able to communicate with both parties. I helped them with procedures, for instance. Most of the time though I was helping the Velos Youth Center, for people of my age, obviously. I tried to help with whatever I could. When I turned 18 they took me on for a period.

Why did you leave Athens if you had a job?

I had a job, but it wasn’t really possible to live on that wage, which was very low indeed. Greece is in the middle of a brutal crisis and I couldn’t see how I’d manage there and be able to study much, which is what I want to do.

I had nowhere to sleep and ended up in the street again.

Did you feel welcome from the start in Barcelona?

Well no, the arrival was really tough. I got here on a Friday and the social services office told me to come back on Monday. I had nowhere to sleep and ended up in the street again. Even after that they told me they’d take three months to be able to offer me a bed. The wait wasn’t so long and in the meantime I got by with friends and people I knew who could put me up for a few days.

Finally I managed to get access to a flat and, later on, when I had to look for a room myself I felt more empowered. I’m really happy to be able to go to school now, and I want to do volunteer work again for some organisation here. In fact, I was a volunteer for the Mediterranean Games in Tarragona in July and really it was one of the best experiences of my life. There were people from all over the world.

Do you live with other refugees? Are you close as a group?

We have such diverse origins that we don’t always understand each other completely. Not just because of the language, but also our approach to life. Sometimes I think they should open up more to the possibilities offered them by this society and leave behind the traditions that cause them to shut themselves off and think in a more restricted way.

How are you adapting to life here?

The best way possible: at school. It’s not easy for me because I can’t speak Spanish or Catalan. I go to class but even so it’s complicated. The teachers help me a lot, for example they let me choose the day of an exam. They also helped me a lot when they realised I had a problem eating due to a lack of money. At lunch time they put me with the rest of the students in the dining room. Now I’m doing the second year of baccalaureate studies and when I finish I want to carry on studying. At the same time I want to keep doing volunteer work. Right now I’m waiting to get my Spanish a little better so that I can do that.

We actually met Amin because he’s on the database of people wanting to do volunteer work via the Federació Catalana de Voluntariat Social.


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