Ahmed is 16 years old. He is Kurdish and comes from Kurdistan in Northern Iraq. At the time that he told this story (August 2016) he was living in a refugee camp in Northern Greece.
We lived in a small village. My father ran a factory, my mother was a housewife. I have three brothers and three sisters, I am the third eldest.
I cannot remember any happy time before the war. All I can recall is when I was were eight or nine
the whole family went on a journey to see some place near the village. I was very happy that day. My best times were playing with friends, or being with family, walking around. It was a beautiful place.
I started school when I was six years old. I loved school, because I want to improve and learn many things and not stay as a stupid boy. I like science, Kurdish and English. I just finished 6th grade at primary school. We had to leave Iraq, we left five months ago, because there was no more work for my father and because the Islamic state was very close and we had to run away.
In our community there was no fighting but there was in others, against the Pershmerga. I don’t like ISIS, I am very upset with them because they came to Iraq and Syria and destroyed the country. From the moment we got to hear of this so called Islamic state, we knew they are seeking to harm us and destroy the country. Everything about them is about destruction and harming the country. They do nothing good for anyone. No one has been hurt in my family but one family who lived near us was converted, and we were very afraid of how they can manipulate minds. From the moment that family converted and went to join ISIS no one knows what happened to them. From the beginning the father was with ISIS but it was secret, then he came and took the whole family. That is how we knew.
We are Muslim. ISIS are not Muslim, because our Islam is not like that. They are carrying flags and saying Allah is great, they write Islamic verses on walls and then they burn the flags and the walls and this is not Islam. It’s not good what they do to people and all that destruction.
We left Iraq in secrecy, over the mountains to Turkey. It took twenty four hours, we were in the mountains a whole day. We had no water and there was snow up to our knees. We took a car to one point and then it was on foot. We were about twenty families together and we all suffered together. At one moment we lost our father. He was very tired and he fell asleep while walking through some trees. We looked for hours and we finally found him in the woods. He was exhausted. I was not afraid for myself, but I was worried for my little sisters and I was worried about another Assyrian family with a little baby in the deep snow. They suffered a lot because, as we walked, they fell down every few steps in the snow.
We had four smugglers with us on the journey and when we reached a river they told us: when you cross the river you are in Turkey. The smugglers gave everyone two sticks to help them wade through the river. It was not difficult for me, but it was for others because the stream was very powerful. No one fell. I was helping by carrying their bags from one side to the other.
After the river we walked for four hours and reached an area full of soldiers who said: lets put you all in vehicles and send you back to Iraq, you have no business here. So we all got together and agreed to give the soldiers money and they let us through. Every person paid about 50 dollars. After the soldiers got the money they gave us food: bananas and water. And they let us use one room which they used as a rest room. They allowed the women and girls to rest there for two hours then we had to go on. We walked for another two hours to a small village where there was an explosion. The explosion was in an empty shop, it destroyed the surroundings but no one was hurt. We were not close but we could see what was going on. No one could explain why. I was not afraid but it was very loud.
Then we got a bus for twenty four hours and went to D. We stayed there in a hotel for four days. Every day the smuggler was telling us: it’s OK, I will take you out of here. Finally we left the hotel and the smuggler took us to the place where we got the the rubber boat. Then it was two and a half hours on the sea. We were all frightened. The rubber boat was tipping and about to sink when the strong waves came, but God saved us. The owner was the driver. There were 110 people on it. It was really overcrowded. I could sit down. We wanted life jackets, we bought them for 10 Euros each, I don’t know if they were any good, but the smuggler said no rings because he wanted space. I have never been to sea. I saw it on TV. I cannot swim. Everyone was afraid and people fell asleep from fear.
When we reached our destination – it was the island of Samos – the rubber boat stopped and everyone got out and we looked at the GPS to see where we were. Then we walked another hour from the coast. We saw no one, no coastguards, no police, nothing. The boat owner had given us a number and told us to walk for an hour and call that number. We were told to say we were stuck in the mountains and ask them to: please come and rescue us as we have a man and a woman in a wheelchair. So after we called, the police did come and they took us to another island. We stayed in a place where there was a big camp of Afghan refugees. We stayed there two days and then they put us in a big ship for Athens. When we reached Athens we rang another number that someone gave us on the boat and a big bus came and moved us to Eko. We paid for that bus ourselves, it was nothing to do with the Greek government.
When we got to Eko our father went to the border and signed a paper with all our names stamped and signed and he was going to come and get us but at the last moment the border closed. Father was number thirty on that paper and at that time only up to sixteen was crossing. After sixteen they closed it.
We did not leave. We thought we would stay and wait. We thought ok sixteen today but tomorrow it will be our turn. But then we heard on the internet and TV it’s closed. We stayed a few more weeks then we came here. There was a protest. It was over four days, we all went in the road and closed it. My father and I participated in the protest. I had a paper in my hands where I had written: You must open the borders immediately. We closed that road and we saw cars going around us. So we closed that road also. But then people felt helpless, it was four days with no food, so they gave up.
Eko was better than here because at Eko camp we had toilets with water and the showers had hot and cold water although we had to pay. But here every time I go to the toilet I suffer a lot, because I must take water because the toilets are always dirty. And the food is no good here. We don’t eat it. It’s only edible on one day a week when they give us meat and rice. We buy everything and my mother is cooking. We have a small electric oven inside the tent. It’s better than nothing.
My father told us when we planned to leave Iraq we were not allowed to tell anyone about or plans or that we were leaving. We planned to go to Germany. My brother is already there. Life here is very boring. I have nothing to do, I go out of the Tent, I hang around and I go back in the tent. There is nothing to do. This little school? (Ahmed makes a rude gesture with his hand.) We do a bit of football. I hope they could fix the ground for us in a field where we can play football and I would like a school in which we can learn. We have no doctor here after 5 pm so we teach each other first aid. We have two paramedics from the Red Crescent in Syria among the refugees. We call it the open borders group because we are stuck here and want the borders to open.
Would I go back to Iraq? of course if I knew my village was safe I would go back. The Pershmerga are the only ones who can defeat Daesh and they will finish them.
In February 2017, I met up with Ahmed again in Athens, living in an apartment with his family waiting for relocation.
We left the camp five months ago. There were lots of problems there. The food was not good and the tent was really bad. I saw a lot of guys fighting with knives and drinking. They were saying things like I am Kurd, you are Syrian, you are Arab. Me and my family we were afraid because of this. Personally I did not get into any fights. I played football with my friends and I was a member of the open borders group. Me and my friends helped them with distributions and things like that.
When we got to Athens I thought I would never be comfortable in the city, because I was accustomed to the camp. But after many days here I see that Athens is good. I like the mountains in Athens, like the Acropolis. I’ve been to the Parthenon. It is very clear and nature is beautiful up there. We could see everything, it was amazing.
As for Greek people, Some are good some are bad. There were a lot of volunteers in the school in Athens. They helped us to make food and to learn languages, things like that. But when I walk in the street and I ask someone for the way, he pulls away and wont tell me. We see that all the time.
I have been going to school for the last three months. We learn English and we learn about each other. The volunteers teaching us are very interesting. There are about 40 in the class. It is near Victoria and I go 4 days a week. I do want to learn some other subjects but I am most interested in English. Sometimes I am bored, sometimes I go outside with a friend or my family. There is no sport, I wish there was, but the most important thing for me is to study languages. That is what I want to do. I feel well, occasionally I have bad dreams but mostly they are good ones.
As for the future. I want to go to Germany with my family because my eldest brother is there.
In Iraq ISIS are very close to our city and there are a lot of problems there.