I didn’t know I was in France, until I found myself being forced into a boat in Calais
Before needing to flee, I had never heard of the UK’s asylum system and I certainly didn’t know what the “Home Office” was. I’d never heard of any asylum system in fact. Even when I was searching for ways I could escape, I didn’t know much about what would await me or the process of applying for asylum when I reached a safe country.
I was persecuted in Iran because of my religion. I was being harassed and tracked so I didn’t feel safe. I had to go into hiding for a long time. Eventually, my parents knew my life was in danger and I had to find a way out.
There was only one way: for my family to pay a lot of money to smugglers. I couldn’t go to the airport to get a flight, as I was being watched. And for the same reason I couldn’t present myself to officials to get a visa.
The smugglers promised my parents to keep their only child safe and said they would take me to the security of Canada. I wanted to be as far away from the dangers I faced as possible. But they were dishonest. I had to leave Iran on foot to a neighbouring country. They said they had sorted a flight from Turkey to Canada, but the smugglers kept me hostage for six to seven months, demanding more money from my parents to take me to a safe country.
They kept me with them at all times, and would tell me they would just leave me there if that’s what I wanted. But I had no choice as I had no money, no ID or paperwork, so I would be imprisoned if I stayed put along the journey. I never had the option to move on somewhere else and was isolated from my family and anyone else.
I didn’t know I was in France, until I found myself being forced into a boat in Calais. I completely freaked out when I realised what was happening. People talk about it being a “Channel”, but it really is the ocean when you are in it. I have a fear of deep water so I thought something below could take me and bring me down – I was terrified. But I knew then and there it was the only way and I couldn’t go back.
I haven’t been able to speak to my parents since I left home. I had no phone or computer to contact them. I am so worried about them and wonder if they are safe, and I know they will be so worried about me. I feel sad for them that they’ve lost their only son, and with that their hopes and dreams for me.
I’ve been accommodated in a hotel for well over a year now in the UK. Anyone could handle this for a short amount of time, and I did at first. But now, it’s really hard. I’m not allowed to work, and am given just £8 a week to get what I need other than food. And the staff aren’t trained or passionate about supporting people – especially people who have been through persecution, traumatic journeys in search of safety and are trying to apply for asylum, which is very complicated.
I have no freedom. Instead of feeling safe here, it has caused me a lot of mental and physical health problems being treated this way. I couldn’t exist as myself back home, like many other people seeking asylum, so all I want is to be free.
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I’m not ready yet to talk about what happened this week. I can’t find the words. I can only picture the women, men and children who lost their lives in the freezing cold on that boat.
As someone who has had to flee for their life, and made that very same terrifying journey, I think the UK government should introduce safe ways for people to reach the UK. I know how few options people have. I couldn’t go to embassies in Iran as I was being watched. I had to escape on my own without anyone knowing. I didn’t have the option to come here safely and legally – I didn’t even know I was coming here.
I hope one day, when I am no longer an “asylum seeker”, I will be free. Then I can have the chance to live like everyone else – wake up, buy a coffee, go to work, come home to family and friends. Just a normal life, nothing more.
For now, all I really want is a good night’s sleep. I haven’t had many of those in the last two years.
Refugees and people seeking asylum – experts by experience – come together as the VOICES Network to speak to media and politicians: twitter.com/VOICESNetworkUK