Claiming asylum is not a crime. But in the last two years, I have been detained twice – locked up without any criminal offence being committed.
Detention centres are full of desperate people. Many are addicted to drugs like heroin. I think it is because people cannot imagine going back to where they came from, they have already seen such horror on their journeys. They want to send people back to so-called safe countries like Bulgaria and Romania where they were beaten and where police chased them with dogs. People could not face it so they ended their own lives. I saw that several times.
I could not believe this was the UK, my expectations were so different. For me, asylum is having a safe place to live in a different country because your home country is unsafe or your life is in danger.
It is having human rights.
But I’ve been waiting more than two years for my claim to be heard, for an interview – for someone to ask what happened to me in Iran, why did I come to England? I was told this was a safe place and that the government is much kinder than in Iran. I am safe, but there is no compassion in the system. The Home Office just sees paper, a name, they don’t think about the real person. There is an endless stream of paperwork and bureaucracy, I call it paper play; because they are playing with our lives.
I don’t want big things, just a quicker process and an interview.
My life in Iran was quiet. My brother and I owned a mini-supermarket, I had a car and my business. I was about to marry my girlfriend. Many people from Iran are political refugees, but my problem was changing my religion.
Under the Islamic regime, there is no freedom of belief and converting to any foreign religion is illegal. It is seen as the biggest crime. People die for this. It might take a bit of time, maybe you will be in jail for a long time, but sooner or later they will execute you. If you’re discovered.
I was visiting my cousin and his wife who had just had a baby when I found out that my Christian friend had been arrested. My father called me and said the police had searched our home and taken my laptop and papers from my room. It was very frightening and confusing, but I knew I had to leave. I stayed with a friend near the Turkish border and from there walked into Turkey.
From there, I travelled in the back of a lorry, which was stopped in Bulgaria. There were lots of people, women and children. The driver abandoned the vehicle and we were trapped for ages, we could not get out and it was difficult to breathe. We managed to break out and saw it was surrounded by police officers. They were just watching. They were not opening the door. We would have all suffocated if we had not managed to break out ourselves. They would have watched us die.
I had a horrifying time in Bulgaria. I was persecuted and tortured. We were taken to a prison where we were given no food or water. We were moved several times. If people asked for food or water, you were beaten. I asked for a blanket and one of the guards knocked me out with the back of his gun. We were threatened all the time, I was told: ‘We will send you back to Iran and they will kill you’. I managed to escape and get to the UK.
I claimed asylum in December 2015. I was asked to report every two weeks to a police station. The fourth time, they took me to a detention centre. After three days, they gave me a plane ticket back to Bulgaria. Two weeks later they transferred me to another detention centre near Heathrow. Friends from my church in Huddersfield helped me get a solicitor and a judicial review. I suffered from a lot of stress and anxiety at this time. The night before my flight, I didn’t sleep, I was waiting for the guards to come and take me back to Bulgaria. But no one came. After a week, I was told I’d be released while the judicial review took place.
During this time, the Home Office stopped my financial support and I had no money. I was depressed and anxious about being sent back to the detention centre. In December 2016, I was detained again. After nearly a month, I finally had a court hearing. The Home Office didn’t want to release me, but after lots of arguments the judge said I could spend Christmas with my friends. It was really scary, he said: “You will be removed in the near future, January maybe.” But then in March 2017, I had an email from my solicitor saying my case was being dropped.
Now I am waiting. I volunteer in a charity shop and I go to church. It has reduced my anxiety and I think less about terrible things. But they don’t let me go to college to learn English. I’m 25-years-old, I could be working, I could be going to college or university. You see the potential in yourself and you think you might be able to do something positive for society. But they don’t let you do anything.
People seeking asylum already have lots of problems, they have left everything behind in their home country, they are heartbroken. Why not be a bit quicker in the process? Give them their right, their human right, for their claim to be heard.
*Sardasht is a pseudonym to protect his identity. Sardasht is sharing his story as part of Refugee Action’s campaign for a fair and effective system for people who seek protection in the UK, #StandUpForAsylum. For more information visit www.refugee-action.org.uk/standupforasylum.