Migrants Stories | International Organization for Migration

Migrants Stories

Every person should have free access to education and every school should be a safe place for everyone

M. Zafari and M. Riza share their thoughts and feelings through their talent


Mohammed Zafari and Mohammed Riza, two male artists with similar experiences, met by chance in the open center of Malakasa and narrate their adventures and concerns through their paintings. The two men combined their knowledge and paved the way for the visual arts for the residents of Malakasa, providing daily painting lessons for free in the workshop they have set up. Both artists have their own perceptions of the world and their works are inspired from their personal experiences. The issue of migration has been captured on their canvas, depicting their concerns but also the hope for the future.

[ Mohammed Zafari ]

Mohammed Zafari is 23 years old and comes from Uruzgan, a province of Afghanistan that has not ceased to be a battleground of various forces since 330 BC, he explains. Although he was born in Afghanistan, his family moved to Iran when he was very young, and he grew up there. He explains the struggles he experienced in Iran. "We had to pay tuition fees, of exorbitant prices, while the Iranians had not. They offered us the opportunity for education when in fact it was hindered," he says. "We were five siblings and our parents could not afford it for all of us."

Mohammed Zafari started to work from a very young age in Iran as a builder to make ends meet and not be a burden to his family. However, he did not like it since it was not what he had imagined for him. He left his family and decided to travel to Turkey. He stayed there for two years until he raised some money and managed to move to Lesvos. In Moria, his life changed when he met Eric, a volunteer from the United Kingdom who was helping with the situation at the camp. Speaking with gratitude about Eric, he explains that he gave him the necessary materials to start painting. "So, I started painting and I discovered my talent. Now I teach others to paint. It gives me even more joy to see others evolving in this art through me."

Zafari likes painting and music. He plays guitar and piano.

"Art and music are necessary in our lives more than ever, especially now that we are isolated because of COVID-19. Despite already existing distances, combined also with those that the pandemic created, our paintings act as a bridge and bring us closer, regardless our country and language."

Always adhering to the protocols to prevent the transmission of COVID-19, the two men provide classes daily to those who wish to learn painting.

The Hope Eye

"This painting belongs to the surrealist movement. It tries to bridge two contradictory situations, the dream and the reality that is not directly perceived by the human eye. At first glance, the painting may not seem logical, but each element has an interpretation and correlation with the rest.

Initially, the eye is inspired by the well-known ‘evil eye’ that prevails in the Mediterranean and the Middle East and symbolizes the bad energy. In my painting, it can be interpreted as the other look with which we need to look at some situations, such as the need for some people to come to Europe in search of a better life. "The eye is the Eye of Hope and its center consists of the European flag," Zafari explains.

"Blue symbolizes both the sky and the sea, two elements that you cannot easily distinguish one from another when looking at Greece from Turkey. Blue defines the hope of passing from Turkey to Greece and from there, to the rest of Europe.

The two hands are inspired by the painting "The Creation of Adam" by Michelangelo. The painting gives the impression that God (on the right), the Giver of life, is approaching Adam (on the left and below of his Creator), who has not yet received it. The two are not on the "same level." In my approach, both hands are of humans; one hand from a European citizen and the other from a person far from Europe who wants to find refuge in it. Both hands are on the "same level" because all people are equal. The two fingers have not touched each other yet, but both point to the European Union and are close enough so the one gets energy from the other.

[ Mohammed Riza ]

Mohammed Riza is 30 years old, born and raised in Kabul, Afghanistan.

Mohammed managed to go to school in Afghanistan, and for 13 years he did what he loved. He was a professor of painting at a university, until the university was attacked, and he felt that his hopes were dashed, together with the university.

He and his family decided to seek refuge in neighboring Iran first, but there they had no right without the necessary documents and there was no chance of obtaining them. They stayed there for a while and continued their journey to Turkey and from there to Greece. In 2019 they arrived in Lesvos.

When asked if he would like to return or if there is something he misses from his country, he wondered who would like to live or have a family in fear, poverty, dust from the ruins and extremism? "I do not mind staying in Greece or going to another country. Afghanistan is an unstable country and I want to be where I feel safe."