“What was my father doing in Rwanda?”

The plane that will transport asylum seekers deported to Rwanda on Tuesday 14 June at the military air base in Amsbury, UK.  Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

The plane that will transport asylum seekers deported to Rwanda on Tuesday 14 June at the military air base in Amsbury, UK.Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

My father was always calm. He knew the plane to Rwanda wouldn’t take off. He knew that God would save him. He cried happily when he heard that the flight was cancelled. A few days after the European Court of Human Rights blocked Britain’s first deportation flight, 21-year-old Iranian asylum seeker Reza talks about his 47-year-old father Abbas, who was the first to be put on the plane. “I haven’t seen my mother and my sister for three years, they are still in Iran, and now I am almost separated from my father.”

Reda tells his story from Carlisle, a city in the far northwest of England, where he shares a room in a guest house with another asylum seeker. Reda’s asylum application is pending. “I want to study political science,” he said during an hour-and-a-half phone conversation, “and I want to work, preferably in the field of refugee work. Now I am working as a volunteer at a local church that helps refugees.” He yawns now and then, exhausted from the stress and restless nights of the past week.

lost kilos

He worries about his father, who is in Brook House, a detention center at London’s Gatwick Airport, 350 miles from Carlisle. He was able to visit on Thursday. He can do sports, rest more than anywhere else, and he shares a room with another Iranian. That’s fine, because he hardly speaks English. I had brought clothes, but they were too big. I was shocked at how much weight he lost, but I didn’t show it. He looks ten years older than him.

In 2019, the father and son left Iran in search of a safer life in Europe. We are a Christian family and it is becoming increasingly difficult for Christians in Iran. You have to live a hidden life and any time the police might be at your door to take you away. You live a scary life. I didn’t see a future there.

First test: Istanbul

His mother and sisters remained. We knew it was going to be an arduous and long journey. Parting was indescribably difficult, because we did not know when we would see each other again, or if we would see each other again. The first test was conducted in Istanbul. “If the Turkish police had arrested us, they would have brought us back immediately,” he added. But Reza and his father were able to travel to Izmir and reach Lesvos from there, with 36 other refugees on a boat.

“There we waited for the hell called Moria, a refugee camp in which there was nothing but misery, hunger and fighting – killing, in fact. We have a tent that does not withstand the constant rain. After a few months my father decided to build a hut. Every day we walked several kilometers to collect firewood. After half A year we couldn’t stand it and tried to take the ferry to Athens.It was forbidden, but after many attempts we were able to get on board.

Reza and his father are in Greece, shortly after Reza is released from prison.  picture

Reza and his father are in Greece, shortly after Reza is released from prison.

Arrested six times

In the capital, we shared a small room, but we knew we could not stay here for long, or else we would have no money left. I made six attempts to reach Italy by boat or by plane. Once I got stuck under a moving truck, but everything failed and I was arrested six times. Then came the message that we were expected to be in Lesvos for an assessment interview with the immigration service. We were very keen on sailing. We were afraid.’

“The new camp turned out to be better than Moria. I was able to work as a volunteer thanks to the people of the movement on the ground. Here I learned to speak English. The asylum application was approved, but in Greece there was no work and no housing. With our papers we could go to Germany. I lived there with My father for half a year in a small room.We waited a long time for the residence permit, but nothing happened.I tried to learn German, but we were hardly able to speak.This did not work.

only for england

Reda decided to travel to England on his own to obtain a new asylum application. I ended up in Calais at The Jungle, where the Care4Calais team helped me with the shelter. After a few days I took the risk, repeat what happened in Izmir: at night in a crowded bus to the beach. On the way, the police stopped the bus, looking for the driver. Everyone fled and continued their journey on foot. With 38 men, including a family, we were on a rickety boat three or four hours later, and the crossing took eight hours.

“When the water started slowly seeping into the boat towards the end, I called the Coast Guard, because it turned out I was the only person on the boat who spoke English. It took a long time to get someone on the phone, and when I finally did, they didn’t believe me. They sent a helicopter and a rescue boat. We were saved from destruction, literally. The people who greeted us were helpful, especially those in Dover. My only bad experience was in the detention center, where I only had water and food for three days.

wrong day

“When the government announced Rwanda’s plans, I was staying in a hotel next to Gatwick. I could already see myself fleeing to a country I knew absolutely nothing about. At about the same time, my father decided to travel after me from Germany. When he came ashore in April, he was He was arrested immediately. This is strange, because I know of refugees who arrived a few days later and were simply put in hotels. It seems that he arrived on the wrong day. His asylum application is now being processed.

He was shocked to learn that his father was on the first Rwandan flight. “Tuesday morning he was put into a truck with some other refugees. They sat there for thirteen hours. Everything they did was observed. How they sat, how many times they called, what they ate. It was frightening and probably intended to sow fear. I was away in Carlisle, calling. With my father and watching the news. I lost my temper. What was he supposed to do in Rwanda? On the other side of the world?’ What would I do without him?

your own store

The second trip to Rwanda is scheduled for next Tuesday, this time with a different group of asylum seekers. “If I stay on Earth again, I think my parents are safe,” says Raza. “I want to take him out first so we can be together again. I miss him so much. He’s excited to start a new life, to open a shop, like in Iran, where he sells clothes. With my mother and my sisters there. We want to be good for England and definitely not.” We depend on the government.

Was the decision to flee Iran a good one? I never doubted it. Not when we slept in wet beds, nor when we were in a bare dungeon, nor when we were bobbing on the surf in pitch darkness.

Festive moment: Reda and his father celebrate receiving a residence permit on the island of Lesvos.  picture

Festive moment: Reda and his father celebrate receiving a residence permit on the island of Lesvos.

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