‘In Iraq I would have died quickly. Here I feel I am dying, but very slowly
Millennial refugees explain how their lives have been changed by conflict
Akeel, 28, from Baghdad, has been in Calais for six months
“I have been in the camp for six months now. It feels like such a long time. I get embarrassed when I speak to people who aren’t in my position. They probably just see me as a refugee and look at me with sympathy. If we had met in Baghdad I might have seemed quite cool.
I had a good life there. My life was probably very similar to that of anyone else my age. I wasn’t always living in a tent on my own, eating food from tins. I had such good friends. I really miss laughing with them. I adored my family, I still do. All my relationships are carried out on my phone now. I am on it all the time. It’s the only way to have any kind of life outside of this place.
I used to be a teacher. I taught maths and English. I wanted to be headmaster one day and run teaching camps for disadvantaged children in Iraq but who knows what I will do now, if anything. It’s hard being young in the camp – I mean, it’s hard being any age. It is just so, so boring. I feel like my 20s are going before my eyes. I feel 50, not 28.
I used to look at life with excitement, and wonder what would happen in the future – that’s what it’s like when you’re young. You have so many possibilities. I wanted to do a lot of good in my country. Now I feel like I am just a lot of needs: someone who needs a home, who needs food and on and on. Not someone who can do something for other people. That is the worst part of it.
I try to keep up the things I like. I love football. I try to play here and sometimes we watch matches on our phones. But we are all now thinking constantly about what life will be for us.
In Iraq I would have died quickly. Here I feel like I am just dying, but very slowly.”
Ranim, 23, from Syria, arrived in Calais two months ago
“I left my country after my home was destroyed. I had lost friends and family – I saw people I loved killed in front of me.
I arrived here two months ago and I’m still getting used to a lot of things. For example, sharing a tent with another guy is not easy. Being treated badly by the police here is also horrible. The weather is getting a little nicer, at least.
When I was travelling, I didn’t really think about the future, just how I was going to get from one day to the next. Now in the camp it is different. Since being here I keep playing over in my mind what I’ve seen and what has happened to me and I try to understand the huge change that has taken place in my life. It has made me very anxious and I have a lot of trouble sleeping.
I seemed so sure of everything at home. I was studying engineering, I had my friends. I loved poetry and reading. That is actually one of the only things I still have from my own life, as I am able to swap books with friends here.
The only good thing about being here is meeting people who have been through the same thing and sharing our stories with each other, which makes us feel close. The thing is, I never wanted to go to Europe. I really loved my country before everything happened and I wanted to have a life and family there. Perhaps I will move back there. I have no idea, I am so unsure about my future now. This is made worse with seeing the camp in Calais being destroyed and again having no idea what will happen to me next.”
Ahmed, 26, from Baghdad, has been in Middlesbrough for three months, after travelling across Europe
“Before 2003 I had a really happy life. I was in secondary school and had many friends. I have one brother and five sisters and we would always play football together, I was the goalie, or on the PlayStation.
But in 2003 everything changed. Each day there was bombing and many of my friends were killed. I wanted to escape and become a pilot for the army but I couldn’t follow this ambition as I was refused for being a Sunni.
After I graduated from university, my father did not want me to stay in Baghdad because it was too dangerous so he arranged for me to work in oil. I got a job for BP in Basra where I was harassed all the time for being Sunni. There was lots of violence but I survived. However, Isis came to my family house and killed my father because he had a son who works for a British company. They asked where I was and he didn’t say so they killed him – he sacrificed himself to save me.
At least I am safe here. Life won’t be what I thought it would but I am lucky to be here. I want to forget everything and start a new life.”
Some names have been changed