By Anna Romandash
“Sometimes, I got outside and cry”
He’s hiding from the cameras, and will take absolutely no pictures. At a large conference in Berlin, he worries that people may recognize him, and that his fellow migrants will learn his secret. This is a life of Mohammed (name changed), who fled Iraq fearing persecution for being a homosexual. He is reluctant to tell his story, but becomes more open as we speak.
“I came to Germany 15 months ago. I live in small community, where everybody knows each other. Not too many places to go or see,” Mohammed begins. Although he is grateful to the people who made his stay in Germany possible, his life here is far from calm. After leaving a refugee camp, he got to live with fellow migrants. One of his roommates caused problems with authorities, but because the officials thought Mohammed was related to the troublemaker, they made both men move to another home.
“I was so stressed I would just go outside and cry. I could not cry in front of my roommates because they would think me weak,” the man reflects. Besides a few contacts, his did not know anybody who could help him. “Then, my friend called and offered me to stay at his place. Now, I live with him, and although it is calm, there is not much for me to do,” Mohammed says. His host is a German citizen, who is also homosexual; Mohammed met him through common contacts. Now, the migrant is waiting to enroll in German classes so he can learn the language and be able to get involved with the community. So far, his life centers on his friend and their apartment only.
“My cell phone is my world now”
“My cell phone is my world now,” Mohamed signs. Besides a few friends who have supported him throughout his journey, there are very few people he can talk to. It all started in Baghdad, the man’s native city. In an evening, when he was standing on the street, a police car stopped before him. Militia got out of the vehicle, took Mohammed’s phone, and tried to get him in the car. He ran, but his phone – with all of the private information – was lost forever.
“I kept a lot of intimate things on my cell: pictures, numbers, private information. The phone is the only thing that kept me in contact with my boyfriend, and if anybody got it, this person would find out I was gay,” Mohammed explains. During his entire life, he kept his homosexuality hidden from his family. “In Iraq, gay people are persecuted. If people know you are homosexual, it is a matter of time before you go missing,” he adds.
When the police got Mohammed’s phone, he realized that his secret was no longer safe. “I did not know why the police attacked me. This is not Germany, you know. Police can do anything,” he says, “We may now know the name of our president sometimes, but we always know militia’s names because they are so powerful.” The attack terrified Mohammed; he left his home and stayed at a friend’s house in Baghdad. Then, phone calls happened. “Somebody tried to reach my friends and started asking questions about me. Like, who I was, and how my friends knew me,” the man continues. Mohammed assumes it was police trying to get more information about him.
“I felt like my life became “naked”. I could not keep my secret any longer,” he says. Mohammed decided to come out before his family; he told his parents and his sister he was gay. They did not take it well. His parents refused to talk to him after they found out the truth; and although he maintains little contact with his sister, they do not talk as much as they used to.
“Sea is more merciful than the people”
“I was scared for my life,” Mohammed says. He lost contact with his parents, and he knew it was a matter of time before other people found out about his sexuality. In Iraq, being gay is considered wrong at best, so Mohammed realized he needed to flee the country. He had an option to run by the sea, get to Turkey, and continue his journey from there. He was afraid of sea travel, though. “I was terrified of the small boats people use to run away,” he recalls, “But then, sea is more merciful than the people.”
Mohammed tried four times before he actually reached Germany. At first, he went with a small boat to Turkey. They arrived in the middle of nowhere, so the small team of refugees tried to reach a bigger city. “Police caught us there. They took us to jail. Although I spent only six hours in cell, it was probably the most miserable time in my life. I have never been to jail before,” Mohammed reflects on the experience. The man and his companions were released shortly afterwards, so they decided to leave the country as soon as possible.
The team found a boat that could take them to Greece. Initially reluctant to get on, Mohammed was terrified when he saw that that boat had 300 passengers instead of 150. He decided to stay behind while most of his companions left. He does not know what happened to them afterwards. After that, a few people who remained – including Mohammed – started wondering around the place.
“It was truly the middle of nowhere, mountains and no civilization,” Mohammed recalls. They spent a few days in the wilderness, but then, the group was robbed by the local thieves. “I could see my life before me,” Mohammed says, “The bandits took my money, my cell, everything. I was lucky I still had my passport.” The man remembered a phone number of his friend, who now lived in America. “I called him and asked for some money. If it was not for his help, I don’t know what would happen to me,” Mohammed says.
“I live in the past”
The robbery made men more desperate, yet more eager to leave Turkey. After many failed attempts, they finally reached Germany. There, Mohammed was questioned about his reason to flee Iraq. “At first, I did not tell the authorities I was gay. It was too bizarre. But then, my German friends suggested I share this information. It is still hard to talk about it,” the man signs.
For Mohammed, the life in Germany is safer, but he is still afraid to come out. His migrant friends do not know he is gay, and he is afraid they will stop talking to him if they knew it. “I live in the past. Whenever I think of my life, I always go back to the times I had in Iraq, when no one knew the truth about me,” he says.
Mohammed did not flee Iraq because of economic struggles or to find a better life in a more developed country. He had a good job, was educated in Computer Science, and made a decent salary. His life was not bad. It was the fear for his own life that made Mohammed abandon everything. Unfortunately, his struggle did not end when he arrived to Germany. He needs to go through more interviews before getting official docs to stay in the country, and he desperately waits for his German classes to start. Despite being disconnected to all, Mohammed hopes to start a new life here, without fear and shame.