"It’s hard for me, being here, being an asylum seeker, leaving everything back home in Iran"
My name is AnAhitA and I’m from Iran, I was born in Tehran, the capital of Iran. I lived in the north of the city, near the mountains. It’s a very beautiful place.
It was just me, my mum and my dad, but my cousins lived two streets away – we grew up together. I always wanted an older brother – actually, my mum had a miscarriage before I was born – she lost him because of stress at work. That was a year before I was born. She became depressed after that and used to say that she didn’t want to have any more children. In fact, when I was born she didn’t want to hold me – she also wanted to have a boy - but that changed after a couple of months. She is a very good mum.
I had a very good life, a lot of good friends and a close family. I grew up as a Muslim – but my family weren’t strict, I just acted like a Muslim in school and university, but I never prayed or fasted. Most of my friends were the same. When I was a child my father stopped practicing Islam and throughout my childhood he never pushed me to pray.
My father is a musician. He was part of a band and he used to play in a lot of concerts – he played a traditional instrument called a Ney - it’s like a flute. He really wanted me to play it, but I never got the hang of it – I used to play the piano though. Because I’m an only child my mother wanted me to do everything – ballet, basketball, music classes, painting, English – she wanted me to have a chance at everything, but I only continued with the English classes.
I was studying before I came here, I studied maths in high school and in university I studied architecture – I loved it – I had been studying for 3 years. I only had one year remaining to finish but then I came here. All my friends are graduating, but I didn’t get the chance because I came here.
There has been a lot happening politically in Iran in the last 10 years. Around 9 years ago the ‘Green’ revolution started, many young people were killed. The people revolted because our elections were rigged, and they cheated, and people went to the streets demanding their votes back – many people died. I remember marching with my mother and family at that time. I have a very scary memory actually, something bad happened. I was marching on the streets protesting with my two uncles, my cousins and my mother. Suddenly lots of special police came on motorcycles and my mother and I just ran - we found a derelict building. Lots of other people were hiding in the building and the men told us to go upstairs with all the other women and children so that if the police came the men would try to stop them and the women and children could run from the roofs.
It was very scary because I remember looking onto the street from the window and seeing so many police outside just beating people. We had lost our uncles and two cousins when we had been running away, they had run in another direction. My mother was crying because she didn’t know if the police had taken them. She was trying to see if she could see them from the window but all the other people in the building kept on asking her to come back in case the police saw her in the window. We were so frightened. The police don’t care – they just kill people. After one hour of being in the building the police left and we came out of the building – we went to our car and found my uncles and cousins there.
Things started to change a lot in Iran after that; the police became stronger and more powerful, they killed many young people. Recently, last year, people started to protest again but now everyone is silent because it’s too dangerous. People want freedom.
My family converted to Christianity a few years ago. My mother and father came into my room with a bible one night and told me; ‘read it – we don’t want to push you into Christianity, it’s your choice’ and I read it and we went to a house church. Something happened to me there – I felt something in my heart and since that day I have believed in Jesus.
But it’s not OK to be a Christian in Iran. In Iran they say you should be Muslim – you are not allowed to change your religion. We have two types of Islam in Iran; Shia and Sunni and the powerful just believe Shia – and they do not like Sunni Islam. They let Sunni’s live in our society, but they are discriminated against. If they found out you have converted to another religion the police will kill you because they say that the Quran in the perfect book and you should believe in the Quran.
Things all changed because my father made a music video for the Green Revolution. He wrote the song, played the music and I made a video for it. We never published it because a lot of people knew my father in Iran and if they knew it was my father that made it, then for sure they would come and kill him. But a few months ago, they figured out my father made this song. My father had given it to his friend and shortly after, his friend was arrested. So, we guess the special police must have raided his house and found it on his laptop.
The special police wear normal clothes and live among ordinary people – so you can never be sure of whom you can trust. They came to our house and raided the whole house a few months back. They pushed my mother to the floor and they took a lot of stuff; my laptop, our bibles, our documents. This was when we knew it was not safe for us to stay in Iran. I was really shocked. They didn’t even give us time to cover our hair. I called my father immediately and he told us to leave the house and tell our uncle to pick us up. We left the city that night and we came here. We didn’t have a chance to say goodbye to anyone, not even my grandfather who is very old and close to my heart. We didn’t have time to organise our things; we just had to leave. At that moment all my aims and goals that I had for my life changed. Now, when I look out this window here and see this view I really miss Tehran because my house is in the north of Tehran and the view from my home is like this.
We went from Iran to Turkey by car, but we crossed the border and drove through Turkey on the back of a lorry – it was very hard. It was my first time to travel like that; me, my mum and my dad on the back of a lorry. We stayed for three days in Turkey but after one day the smuggler separated my father from me and my mother. That was the last time I saw my father. To this day we have no idea what happened to him or where he is now. I still feel really guilty because all of my father’s things were in my bag, so he didn’t have anything at all.
We flew from Turkey to Dublin with the smuggler and we stayed one night in Dublin. I was really worried about my mother at this time; she had a stroke a few years ago and the doctor said she must never get into stressful situations, so I was very worried that something bad would happen. I never had this responsibility before – life was always easy. I tried so hard to stay calm and not to get upset because I really didn’t want my mother to become upset. From Dublin the smuggler brought us to Belfast. When we arrived, the smuggler told us to go to the ferry port in Belfast and buy tickets and go to Glasgow because my father was there. I was really tired at this point; I hadn’t eaten for over a day and when we got to the ferry port it was very stressful because we didn’t have any ID. When we were waiting to check in the police came and asked for our ID. I just broke down and cried and asked them if they would let me explain. I explained everything; they were nice to us and brought me and my mother food and water. Then we were taken to Larne House detention centre – it was like a jail. I now know that the smuggler was lying – my father was not in Glasgow. He could be anywhere.
The first night at the detention centre was terrible. My mother couldn’t breathe. We were sharing a bed and I looked at her and she was trying to speak but all she could manage was to say ‘doctor’. I ran to the camera and shouted ‘help’ ‘help’ and they all rushed in – my mother was unconscious, but she was ok after a while. The next day the immigration officer came to interview us – after two more days they came to us and told us they wanted to release us. My mother actually pleaded with them not to release us because we didn’t have anywhere to go. They gave us a train ticket and told us to go to Belfast.
That first night in Belfast was the first time in a week that we contacted anyone back home. We hadn’t even had sim cards before that night. My granddad was just crying and crying when I FaceTimed him. I also remember in those first days in Belfast, a guy was just talking to me in the street and he asked me what my religion was and I almost shouted ‘I’m Christian’ it felt great not to have to hide that.
Shortly after, we moved into the house the housing executive gave us to stay in – it was horrible. I couldn’t believe that was where we had to stay, it was so dirty and there were too many stairs. I knew my mother wouldn’t be able to manage. But the housing officer made us sign the paper; we didn’t have any choice. We and my mum shared a room and a bed. There was a big window but no curtains – and it looked out on the street. I can’t tell you how dirty it was, you couldn’t take off your shoes; there were no things to cook with, no glasses to drink out of – nothing! I went to the housing executive every day begging them to move us. I was so angry. Housing officers would come – put their feet up on the table and tell us it wasn’t their problem. There were also problems with our benefits and my mother’s was stopped for over two weeks. I couldn’t even pay for the doctor’s letter that I needed to give to the housing executive. I went to different community organisations for help, and they all wrote letters to support us, but nothing changed. I had a very good life in Iran – why did this happen to me? Just before I had left Iran I had redone my room and now we are here; I just cried and cried. Then one day when I wasn’t at home my mother fell down the stairs. My phone rang, and it was her – telling me what had happened whilst she was still lying at the bottom of the stairs. I rushed back and called an ambulance and we were taken to hospital. We stayed at the hospital until 2am. When they released us, we went outside into the night – we were in the street alone and we had no idea even how to get home. I couldn’t see any taxis and it was too late for a bus. We walked home. I wanted to cry, really, but I just stopped myself. I had to stay strong for my mother.
It’s hard for me, being here, being an asylum seeker, leaving everything back home in Iran. I never imagined I would have this life. It’s a very big change and still I’m not used to it.
I never tell anyone I’m an asylum seeker. I lie, and it’s easier to lie than to tell the truth to people. When people ask me why I came here, I just shrug my shoulders and say; just to study. If only I could study.