franciscan - January 2003
© The Society of Saint Francis, 2002
Asghar is an asylum seeker. He lived in Iran until eight months ago, when he came to England. With the help of an interpreter, he told his story to Sister Maureen.
Now in his early 50’s, Asghar is married and has two teenaged sons and a daughter in her twenties. However, at the present time he lives alone. In Iran, he worked as a building contractor in the city of Shiraz, borrowing money when he couldn’t earn enough to support his family. He was depressed and frustrated by the inadequate educational facilities as schools have very few books and Muslim clerics dominate the education system. Religious teaching is emphasised at the expense of knowledge about practical things of life, often with dangerous consequences in factories and health care. Asghar was strongly attracted to the Christian faith, and wanted to be able to worship in the church. However, as his family was Muslim and prominent in city affairs, for Asghar to attend church would have endangered the lives of all the church members, and of his family. These factors together motivated Asghar to try to get himself and his family out of Iran.
There are frequent passenger flights between Iran and the UK and USA. Asghar approached a go-between, who for a fee of $US10,000 each, would assist the family to leave the country. The fee would cover false documents and airfares. He advised that they split up to travel and attempt to reunite after a few weeks. Although it was difficult to save so much money, Asghar felt it worthwhile for living a normal and just life, where he would have freedom of religion.
First to leave Iran was Asghar’s daughter, five years ago. With less stringent laws in force than now, she was soon granted asylum and is supporting herself through medical school in England. Asghar and his family were given false documents, which would allow them visas, and Asghar’s wife and sons flew to the USA. Asghar arrived at Heathrow and was granted a temporary visa. After a few weeks, he flew to America in the hope of joining his wife and sons, but at the airport there his false papers were detected. Immigration officials refused him asylum, and returned Asghar to the UK, knowing – as Asghar did - that he would be punished by imprisonment if he was returned to Iran.
On return to the UK, Asghar requested asylum and registered with the Home Office. While he awaits a court hearing in the hope of being granted Permission to Stay, he receives a weekly allowance and is provided with accommodation, the common practice being to house groups of ‘single’ men together, according to ethnic or language group. When he is given a date for the court hearing, he also hopes that, unlike many asylum seekers, his solicitor will not drop his case at the last minute, thus prolonging his state of uncertainty.
Asghar is very philosophical about his situation. He has adapted to English life in so far as he needs to, and has made friends among the local Iranian community. The Home Office expects asylum seekers to fill their days learning English, but Asghar finds the language very difficult and is disheartened about it. Through a Persian language gospel service, he joined Summerfield Parish church and attends a Persian Bible study group. He is delighted to be able to worship freely and talks about his faith in Christ to any who will listen. There are people in the church who support him in the process of applying for Permission to Stay. He hopes that it will not be long before he can be reunited with his wife and sons, either in this country or in America. f
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