Meet Naim

Naim stood proud on the banks of the Mytilini Marina.

Hand in pocket and carrying his only possession, a rucksack filled with his most valued belongings, the 11 o’clock ferry that was to carry him to Athens roared with smoke, signalling the continuation of his journey to Germany: a moment he had been waiting for over 18 months.

Naim and another 50 refugees had arrived on the north coast of Lesvos on a dinghy the previous day. An hour-long bus ride had taken him across the island to the Moria camp: one out of the four refugee camps on the island devoted to register Syrian, Afghan and Iraqi refugees as well as migrants with more ambiguous statuses.

I had met him at the tea tent that very morning; his fluency in English had instigated a profound understanding between us, as I attempted to explain that a 24-hour strike at the marina might potentially delay his departure.

It wasn’t until our paths crossed again later that evening that I got to know his story, to say the least.
Sitting around a fire along with the friends he had made at the camp, we talked as two old friends while he prodded at the fire in an attempt to steer the smoke out of our eyes.

At the age of 30, Naim uprooted his family from the capital of Afghanistan after his father and younger brother were shot in their car by Taliban.

That was the breaking point that led him to lead his mother, younger sister and brother out of Kabul and into Iran.

From Kabul to Turkey
“I left Afghanistan more than one-and-a-half years ago; I stayed a month in Iran and then I left my family and went to Turkey, I told my mum that I could not stay there [Iran] – that it was better for me to go to Turkey. Iran is a difficult country; they have terrible laws, especially against foreigners and Afghans.”

The reasoning behind pursuing his journey to Turkey lay in his determination to provide for his family, to follow his aunt and cousin’s footsteps; they had reached there and resettled in Germany some seven years ago.

But it was also about not abiding by Iran’s stance towards foreigners and their own people. “Leaving Iran wasn’t about paying schools and all that: that’s not a problem.

“We work, we make money by working… it’s about not knowing what’s going to happen to you when you go out on the streets…they don’t respect us as foreigners and they don’t have any laws for refugees, for people that come from Afghanistan.

“We flee our country because we have problems there and when we arrive they catch us and put us in camps and we have a really difficult time… they don’t give us food, they don’t treat us well, they beat us in camps – and they’re not camps: they’re like jails.

“They just put us in a big hall and once a day they give us food: it’s not food – it’s just pieces of bread, a little bit of rice sometimes, sometimes a little bit of cheese…

“We’re not allowed to go to the toilet, if we want to go to the toilet we have to ask.

“We hide and work, that’s what we do in Iran. And when the police catch us in the street, when they see we don’t have a visa, they try to make business (from) us and get money from us in the street.
“For Iranian people, it’s not so difficult; they want to leave Iran for other reasons, they want freedom, they want to be able to go out and have a drink, go out without covering their heads and things like this, but otherwise life isn’t a problem for them.”

A shoemaker by profession, Naim is determined to get to Germany, knowing that his journey will not be an easy one.

Hope in Germany
“I know somehow what awaits me, my friend told me about the way, what the laws are.
“I will continue and see what happens when I get to Germany. I’ve been warned.”

After having worked in Turkey for a year, Naim managed to pay for the apartment his mother and siblings are staying in in Iran as well as save up the $1,000 needed to pay smugglers to get him across the 10-kilometre stretch between Turkey and Greece.

“It was dangerous and risky but we came, there was no problem. Many don’t make it to Greece because of problems with the engine, but we made it… In Turkey we got help from Kurdish people, they gave us food, water, milk for children…”

“We are somehow lucky: some people have a very hard journey here. Some people lose their child in front of their eyes, some of them lose their parents in the city…

“On the way, they get shot by Iranian soldiers: they shoot people on the border from Afghanistan to Iran and Iran to Turkey.”

“I’m lucky I don’t have children, I feel somehow lucky, even though my life is terrible, at least I don’t have children… that would put me in even more troubles.”

Having made our way to the marina for his departure, I know that if there’s anyone that stands a chance to make it to his final destination it’s Naim.

After all, in Farsi Naim means ‘paradise’; he’s entirely entitled to claim that.

Yet Naim also has the clear mindedness, the education and this untouchable courage to move ahead and seek a better future.

Aside the little money we offer him to ensure some kind of backup, Naim leaves us with a smile.

“You people are lovely, it’s not about the help you’re giving us with your money, it’s about the help you give with your heart.

“God bless you.”

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

About Melissa Hekkers

I am freelance journalist and author, who has frequently been featured in mainstream news outlets and other publications in Cyprus. Recently, I've been focusing on developing my writing, promoting my own books and teaching creative writing to children and adults. My most recent publication (2020) - Amir's Blue Elephant- pushes the boundaries of creative non-fiction, and recreates the moments that marked me the most, whilst volunteering in refugee camps in Lesvos, Greece, and during her ongoing involvement with the refugee community in Cyprus. In 2018 I published My Capre Greco Mandala which is the third in a series, an interactive colouring book about the biodiversity of the Cape Greco peninsula in Cyprus. My Akamas Mandala, the second in the series, is a colouring book inspired by the variety of endemic plants found on the Akamas Peninsula. In 2016, I published My Nicosia Mandala, the first of the above series, an innovative, interactive colouring book about the historic fortifications of the old town of Nicosia. I also focuses on silenced communities in Cyprus: I writes about migrants and refugees, both as a reporter and a features writer; I profile them and teach them creative writing skills. In 2007, soon after graduating with a Communications degree, I published my first children’s book in both English and Greek entitled Crocodile, which won the Cyprus State Illustration Award. In 2012, I launched my second children’s book Flying across Red Skies (in English and Greek), using an experimental approach to literature, for which I was nominated for the Cyprus State Literary award. My third, similarly well-received children’s book was Pupa (Greek and English), published in 2014. In between the last two books, I published my first free-verse poetry book entitled Come-forth. In 2019 she was contributing author to the anthology Nicosia Beyond Barriers: Voices from a Divided City, published by Saqi Books, London