Our vendors: Tareq Islami (Surprise, Basel, Switzerland)

Recorded by George Gindely, Surprise

“I was born a refugee and I will always be a refugee.”

That’s what I thought when I received the removal order just before Christmas. I’ve been living in Switzerland for 12 years. I don’t claim benefits; I have two jobs and many friends. My family lives here and my fiancée grew up in the same area as me. But the authorities say I have to leave. I can’t understand it: I speak good German, I’m well integrated and Switzerland has become my home.

I was born in Iran to Afghan parents who had fled their homeland. Afghans are treated as second class citizens in Iran. You are not allowed to open your own business or to drive and I was not allowed access to further education. At some point, I couldn’t take it anymore and moved to Afghanistan. For the first time, I felt like a human being. But war was raging, and attacks were daily occurrences. I had to go back to Iran. Later on, I fled to Switzerland but now I am supposed to go back. But what is there for me? I am not welcome in Iran, there is war in Afghanistan, and my mother, stepfather, brothers, sisters and many other relatives all live here in Switzerland. They had to flee too. And they rely on me because they still don’t speak the language very well.

Deportation threatens to take away my motivation and with it my work. Since December 2013, I have been working on a part-time contract for Surprise in their sales office in Basel. I give out magazines and look after the products, signage and points of sale. I really like the job. It is varied, and I come into contact with people from different cultures.

Through Surprise I found football. In 2008, I was a spectator at a match for their street football league. I really liked the atmosphere and I wondered if I would be able to play too. For a long time, I was captain and later I became a trainer for the Basel team. Lavinia Besuchet, the leader of the street football league, often said to me: “You are our door-opener.” I have also made many friends who are part of the league too.

Since last October, I have also been working as a Sales Assistant at Coop on Claraplatz in Basel. This job brings me a lot of joy too and everyone there has been very welcoming. After my interview, my bosses said they thought I was really likeable. Because of my name they had expected someone very different. My surname is “Islami” and it provokes fear for a lot of Swiss people. I would really like to change that as I’m not religious at all.

The worst part about my situation is the insecurity. Before, I had nowhere in my life where I felt the ground was solid under my feet; where I felt truly welcome. Here in Switzerland I have built a life for myself and now I might lose it all. It’s an awful feeling. If I feel like I can’t cope anymore. I often watch comedy films. They help me think about something else. Sometimes I laugh and cry at the same time in front of the TV.

So, what happens next? I’m going to lodge an appeal. I was really depressed after I got the removal order, but I haven’t lost hope. The network of people that brought me here is too big for that. The amount of sympathy and solidarity I have received in recent days is unbelievable. I feel as though people here like me and that I belong. That’s what gives me the courage and strength to keep fighting, so that one day I might not be a refugee anymore.”

Translated from German by Nastassja Thomas

Courtesy of Surprise /