The Humans of Pikpa is a storytelling project about the residents, staff and volunteers that make up the community of Pikpa refugee camp on Lesvos island, Greece. The project was based on the ‘Humans of New York’ model (and other ‘Humans of’ projects), whereby participants share a brief, illuminating story about their lives. It was undertaken by volunteers towards the end of 2019. 


Since that time Lesvos has been afflicted by violent attacks on refugees, volunteers and premises used to support those affected by the crisis; the world has been racked by the COVID 19 pandemic that presents a disproportionate threat to those accommodated in overcrowded and unsanitary refugee camps. It seems even more important than ever now that people read the powerful, sorrowful and invariably, defiantly, hopeful stories of those involved in the refugee crisis, and join the campaign for sustainable action to alleviate the situation. 


Pikpa is an environment where people can find dignity, love, safety and respect. These are the values that underpin, and clearly emerge from, the stories in ‘The Humans of Pikpa.

“One day I met a friend who asked me why I was sad. I told him I missed my mother. He said okay let’s do it, let’s make a tattoo”

“One day I met a friend who asked me why I was sad. I told him I missed my mother. He said okay let’s do it, let’s make a tattoo”

Three years ago, I went back to Iraq to see my mother. I was living in a European country, building my future. I had studied, I had a job. But Isis was in Mosul, my city. I heard that a bomb had destroyed my house. I had to go back and find my family.

When I returned to my city, I was shocked. There were no buildings, only rubble. I had to ask a taxi driver where my street was. We collected my brother, who took us to a small house where my mother and father were staying. There was no electricity, no power. Everyone was sick, everyone was sad, everyone had nothing, everyone had nothing to do. I was there for four days. It was like hell.

            I decided to get out of Iraq forever. I had lost my papers so I could not go back to the European country I was living in. Instead I bought a ticket to Turkey. Two hours before I left, I told my mother that I was going to leave and never come back. She began to cry silently. She knew she could not change my mind.

            I took a taxi to the airport. Mosul is not far from Baghdad, but as everything was destroyed it took a day to get there. I was in Baghdad for a day. I did not leave my hotel because of the issues between Sunni and Shia. We do not have an army or a government in Iraq, only a militia. Isis belongs to Sunni; the militia belongs to Shia. They both kill without reason.

            The next day I flew to Turkey, where I stayed with a friend for four days. Then I bought a bus ticket to Izmir and called a smuggler. I told him I wanted to go to Lesvos. When I arrived on the island, I was taken to Moria camp. There were thousands of people there, it was terrible. I slept in a tent with ten people. When you woke up in the morning you had to ask people to move. I stayed in Moria for months. I made lots of friends. Younger people. I taught them about Europe, helped them to learn English, tried to make them happy.

For three months my mother didn’t know I was in Greece. I told her I was in Turkey, staying with friends. She asked me to come back for my brother’s wedding. I said I couldn’t because of the money. She didn’t know I have nothing from Iraq, no documents. I am stateless. After another three months she called me and asked me to be honest with her about where I was. I said Mum I am not in Turkey; I am in Greece. I knew it, she told me, I am your mother – I could tell from your voice. She asked me again to come back. I said never, not to that country, they are killers. At that time, she was calling me every few days. I had to tell her to stop. It is hard to hear her voice.

One day I met a friend who asked me why I was sad. I told him I missed my mother. He said okay, let’s do it, let’s make a tattoo. My mother doesn’t like tattoos, it is not permitted in our culture, but it showed her how much I love her. This tattoo is forever. It means thaminuh – precious / almas – diamond / umi – mother. My mother is worth more than a precious diamond.  

In ten years, I might go back. Just to belong to my family, not to Iraq. I hope they will still be alive. My father travelled around – when he was 36, he returned to Iraq to get married. Maybe I am like him. Maybe one day I will go back.

Interviews by Tom Adams and Aud Steinsbekk / Editing by Tom Adams

Photo by Knut Tinagent


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