Refugees from Syria, Iran and Turkey visited ETV's talk show "Hommik Anuga" over the weekend to speak about why they had to leave their home countries and why they chose Estonia. They said Estonians' fear of refugees is understandable.
Celal Yildirim, a teacher from Turkey, said he was happy working as a teacher in his home country and he wanted to do the same after arriving in Estonia. But to do this, he had to learn to speak Estonian.
"People enjoyed it when I spoke in Estonian. Estonians really liked it. I thought that since people like it, I should study it," the teacher said.
Iranian refugee Behnam Bakhtiari, who is working in Estonia as a courier, admitted that learning Estonian has been a difficult task. "The first time I heard Estonian, I only understood 'tšau', 'okei', 'aitäh'. But it has gotten better," Bakhtiari said.
Shorok Alsulaiman, a student from Syria, said she agrees with Yildrim. "If a person has a dream, they can learn the language quickly. I am a student, I wanted to go to school right away, so I learned it quickly," Alsulaiman said.
Bakhtiari worked as a film producer in Iran and made a movie that angered the Iranian government looking at child rape and child marriage.
"An 8-year old girl got married - I asked "why?" The government said this is what Islam says, but I did not believe them. 'Why don't you believe? Please, off to prison with you'."
He spent three months in prison and was released after his father bribed officials.
Bakhtiari then left the country and traveled to Turkey, then to Greece, where he and his family tried to enter Macedonia and Serbia, but the local police captured them and took them back to Athens.
He had no documentation and was able to forge documents in Romania, which he used to purchase plane tickets from Athens to Tallinn. He chose Estonia because of its democratic governance.
"Estonia has freedom of speech. When I lived in Iran, I never saw freedom of speech," Bakhtiari said.
Yildirim and his wife both worked as teachers in Turkey. Since they worked in a school, which Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan labeled terrorists, his wife spent six months in prison. By this time, Yildirim had already escaped.
"Once she got out, we went from Turkey to Greece. We looked around to see where we could go. I was a computer science teacher in Turkey and I saw that computers are very important in Estonia, it is quiet in Estonia, it does not have as many Turks as in Germany and we thought we would go to Estonia. We came to Estonia and started living a peaceful life," the teacher said.
Shorok Alsulaiman said that she lived in the midst of a war for four years in Syria. "We lived a very difficult life. We did not want to leave Syria. Everyone was setting up to leave, we had it different. We said we do not want to leave our country," the student said.
During her final year in Syria, their hometown was closed and no longer received electricity, water or food. "We only had water for two hours each night and no food at all. There was only rice and bread, that was it," Alsulaiman said.
After an explosion in their school building, which killed and injured teachers and students, she knew escaping was the only thing to save them from death. "Leaving was the only option," she said, adding that she and her family first went to Turkey and tried living their lives there.
Shorok's sister Kamar said they had to start all over. "We went to school, graduated high school. After that, our family decided to go to Europe, because while life in Turkey is beautiful, it was also difficult," Kamar Alsulaiman said.
They did not know anything about Estonia before setting off. "We opened Google Maps and looked at where Estonia was. My father asked us if we were sure it was in Europe," Alsulaiman said.
Yildrim said it is understandable that Estonians fear refugees from Syria, Turkey and Iran. "They do not know who we are. That is why we, the refugees, must explain. We must show that we can live together," the teacher said.
Bakhtiari noted that Estonians tend to be closed off at first, but they are friendly after opening up. "My colleagues, the Unemployment Insurance Fund, family physician, the social department, my neighbors," he said.
Yildirim said Estonians are as cold as the weather at first.
Responding to a question about traditional Estonian dishes, Bakhtiari said he does not understand why aspic, a traditional savory gelatin mixed with meat known as sült, is made. Yildirim said he does not like smoked meat or fish, but he enjoys fish soup.
The teacher added that he feels at home in Estonia. "I am a Kurd and Kurds are a stateless people and Estonia is like my country," Yildirim said.
Bakhtiari agreed with him and said he would like to keep working in the film industry in Estonia. He has recently put together a movie about immigration, which he also sent to different festivals and is awaiting feedback.
Kamar hopes to finish her university studies and remain in Estonia, Shorok is studying to become a midwife at Tallinn Health Care College.
Editor: Kristjan Kallaste