‘I’m like a mouse in a trap’: trauma of Europe’s refugees – in pictures

Refugees living in Serbia, Belgium, Sweden and Greece speak about their experiences Photograph: Christian Sinibaldi/The Guardian


Mental health is a critical issue for those who have fled their homes to Europe. Many feel stuck, both physically and mentally: held in limbo by immigration systems and tormented by the horror of past experiences

Photographs by Christian Sinibaldi; text by Lorenzo Tondo

Mon 2 Sep 2019

Azar, 16, Iran
Azar was separated from his father after they left Iran in 2018. ‘I’ve been through a lot, too much. My head is still dealing with many of the things I’ve seen.’ He tried to reach Croatia from Bosnia but was caught by the police. He ended up in Belgrade, Serbia, where he makes hamburgers on the street for €350 (£317) a month. His hair has begun to turn grey and he struggles to control his fits of rage

Aarash, 22, Afghanistan
A poem forced Aarash to leave Afghanistan. At 17, the young poet from Kabul wrote verses that were critical of the extremism and bigotry of the Taliban regime. His father and brother, both lawyers, had been persecuted by the Taliban a few months earlier. Tired of those injustices, Aarash wrote a poem in the name of freedom and rights. When that poem ended up in the hands of the Taliban, Aarash was forced to flee. After a long flight to the Balkans he arrived in Belgrade in autumn 2016. Aarash suffers from a severe obsessive compulsive disorder and anxiety

Asadi, 45, Iran
For two years, Asadi, 45, his wife, Latifa, 28, and their two children lived in a migrant camp in Bulgaria, where aid groups have repeatedly reported abuse and humiliation at the hands of the police. The family, who escaped Iran in 2015, eventually arrived in Serbia in 2018. Asadi began to suffer from a tremor in his hand. After a series of tests, the doctors diagnosed him with Parkinson’s disease. Asadi does not accept this diagnosis, and other doctors have not excluded the possibility it may be caused by stress

Moona, 33, Iran
Before undergoing gender reassignment surgery, Moona, 33, lived as a male professor in Iran. She was married and a had a daughter. Iran does not tolerate homosexuality, but it does allow its citizens to undergo state-subsidised gender reassignment surgery. At the beginning of 2015, tired of living as a man, Moona signed up. She was eventually fired and forced to leave the country in 2018. Tormented by panic and anxiety attacks, she now lives in a safe house for vulnerable people in Belgrade, Serbia


Ahmad, 16, Afghanistan
Ahmad fled Afghanistan as a child, after seeing his father murder his mother and sister. When he reached Iran, like many Afghan children he found himself homeless, and lived on the streets for two years. He arrived in Belgrade in 2018. He suffered from depression, self-harming and has tried to end his life a few times. He attends school and spends much of his time drawing the faces of the migrants he meets in the Médecins Sans Frontières clinic. His dream is to exhibit portraits in the city’s galleries

Abdul Salam, 26, Yemen
Abdul’s home city was destroyed by Saudi bombs, leaving him with nowhere to consider home. His extraordinary journey took him from Yemen to Malaysia, then on to Sudan, Armenia, Mali and Morocco. He was eventually transferred to Madrid and then in March 2018 arrived to the migrant camp on the outskirts of Brussels. He suffers from sleeping disorders and panic attacks. He has had one asylum request rejected and Belgium threatened to send him back to Spain. While he prepares to reapply, all he can do is walk the streets and wait for something to change

Mohammed, 36, Afghanistan
Suicidal thoughts have tormented Mohammed since he arrived in Belgium. He left his wife and two daughters in Afghanistan after his father-in-law, who did not approve of their marriage, killed his father and sister before his eyes. ‘They killed my family in the space of five minutes,’ he says. They would have killed him too, but he miraculously survived a bullet. Today, he lives in Brussels, but it is far from how he had imagined Europe. He says he was repeatedly beaten and stripped by Belgian and French policemen, and had a police dog set on him, to frighten him

Muntaser, 30, South Sudan
Aged 13, Muntaser witnessed children and women being killed in front of him in Darfur. He was held in prison and tortured for months after being accused of supporting opposition forces. In March 2016 he left southern Sudan, crossed the desert and arrived in Libya. After some months, Muntaser boarded a dinghy bound for Sicily and then headed for the Alps. He suffers from PTSD and now lives on the streets in Belgium

Zekrollah, 20, Afghanistan
Two autumns ago, at around 6pm, after receiving the news that Sweden was about to send thousands of Afghans home, Zekrollah left the migrants camp and headed for the woods, where he tried to kill himself. Zekrollah, an Afghan born and raised in Iran, left Tehran in 2013, when he was 14. Since then his life has been an ordeal. He crossed the Balkans, spending his nights in the woods. Since 2016, he has been waiting for Sweden to recognise his refugee status

Reza, 20, Afghanistan
Reza was raised as a Christian in Afghanistan. When the laws of the Taliban meant his religion was no longer tolerated, he and his family were forced to move to Pakistan. But even there, problems due to religion began to haunt his family. Reza has had no contact with his mother and sister for five years. He doesn’t know what happened to them. Today he lives in limbo in Gothenburg, Sweden. He fears that the authorities may deny him asylum. This causes him anxiety and stress. He struggles to sleep at night and spends his time in a house for vulnerable people in the city

Ali, 20, Afghanistan
When the Swedish government rejected Ali’s asylum request, the world collapsed around him. Ali, an Afghan born and raised in Iran, had three weeks to leave the country. Overcome by despair, he decided to try to end his life. Some of his countrymen managed to save him and Ali has received psychological help. Ali no longer has any family left in Afghanistan or Iran, and Afghans continue to suffer violence at the hands of the Iranian police. Aged fifteen Ali was tortured for days by Iranian agents. Now he is trapped, waiting for Sweden to grant him asylum

Maha, 23, Syria
Maha has three children, aged four, two and four months. She lives in Athens. A former nurse, Maha arrived in Greece ahead of her husband, Hussein. She may have escaped the bloody conflict that has engulfed her country but, 18 months after reaching Europe, she is still captive to it. ‘I feel as if I am living the war all over again, although this time it is a war that is fought within the four walls of my apartment, a psychological war that inhabits my mind.’ She plans to write a book about the suffering of refugees

Arghavan, 46, Iran
Arghavan was part of a communist movement in Teheran and had to leave suddenly after her political leader was arrested. She hasn’t seen her son, who travelled with her before leaving for Germany, for a year, and her daughter for two years. Arghavan’s days are spent walking her dog, visiting an MSF doctor for the diabetes she has developed and attending monthly counselling sessions. ‘I wanted to be what I am, an atheist and a feminist, and all of that I found in communism,’ s


says the former driving instructor. ‘Today I feel like a mouse in a trap.’


source:   (with photos)


Leave a Reply