14 November 2017

Aman

Down at my local Oxfam shop, the manager employs a wide range of volunteers. For example, some have mental health issues, some are asylum seekers and some are super-normal well-balanced intellectual giants like me!

A few weeks ago, I was introduced to a tall and well-groomed gentleman called Aman*. He is about forty years old. I was asked to give him some till training.

After the shift, I walked homewards with Aman and he told me his story.

It turned out that he was from the city of Shiraz in Iran. Over several years, he found himself at odds with Islam even though he had grown up in a traditional Muslim home. He went through the motions but secretly he was turning to Christianity. This is not a belief system that meets with much approval in Iran - either from the hardline Islamic government or from the fervent stewardship of neighbourhood vigilantes. But Aman kept quiet, outwardly living a lie and even praying at the mosque.

Perhaps he would be all right. He had his own small business in Shiraz though I didn't find out its nature. Gradually, rumours began to spread about Aman's behaviour and the people he had been associating with. It was a scary time. Then one day, as he was heading home from work,  a young neighbour told him that the police were at his parents' house.

Aman knew that they had most probably come for him. He could easily end up being tortured or even killed. The very best he could expect would be years in prison. This is the price you pay for being a Christian in The Islamic Republic of Iran. So Aman waited till the police had gone and after tearful goodbyes with his family he fled.

He fled northwards to the border with Turkey, somehow got across it and managed to make his way to the Mediterranean port and tourist resort of Kusadasi. There he gave all the money he had to people smugglers. Late at night, he was forced into a flimsy inflatable boat at gunpoint along with thirty or more refugees from different countries.

Fortunately, the sea was calm that night and they were able to voyage safely to the Greek island of Samos. 

He remained on Samos for several months after registering with the authorities there. Aman said the conditions were awful. It was rather like being in prison but finally he gained permission to leave the island and travelled to mainland Greece. 

After Greece it took three weeks to make his way to Calais in France, through Serbia, Hungary, Austria and Germany.It was a terrible and challenging journey but not as frightening as the hours he had spent on the inflatable boat.

At Calais, he slept in the notorious Jungle encampment but a few days after arriving he climbed into a goods lorry that was bound for England and arrived here safely the next day. He officially sought asylum in London and was then transferred to a holding centre in Manchester or Liverpool - I forget which.

After two months there and with his asylum request now being properly processed he was able to come to Sheffield to join his brother and his sister-in-law.

It's about a mile to the top of Ecclesall Road from our house. In that distance I had heard a living, breathing, real life asylum seeker's story. There were other questions I would have liked to ask, colouring in the pictures but I haven't seen Aman since that October evening. He works on Thursdays now, still not allowed to take on a paid job because of the conditions of his asylum seeker's status.

Of course we have seen it all on our televisions. Crowded inflatables in the Mediterranean. Barbed wire camps in Greece. Massing at European borders, filthy conditions at The Jungle and desperate men trying to board lorries that would bring them to England. But to hear it all from the mouth of an asylum seeker who completed such a journey - well it made it all seem so much more real. No doubt  I will see Aman again and in spite of myself I will ask more questions. It is a hell of a story. A story of our times.

*Aman is not his real name for obvious reasons.

32 comments:

  1. What an interesting man. I wonder why and how he was converted to Christianity. I would like to hear more of his story.

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    1. In history there were always Christian minorities in Iran - as in Egypt for example but in modern times their very existence has been hazardous.

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  2. A sad and haunting story indeed-the stuff movies are made from, and he is one of the fortunate ones, as others do not make it out alive at sea.

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    1. He is so happy, so proud and so relieved to be in England. As you suggest, he is one of the lucky ones.

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  3. I am glad Aman survived his incredible journey and wish the best for him.
    I am sad for those unfortunate souls who are lost in limbo or those lost (forever) along the path towards a hoped for new life.

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    1. If I had been in Aman's shoes I would have also fled for my life. Surely, he cannot be knocked or derided for doing that.

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  4. Wow, what a fascinating encounter. It does make all the difference to hear about current events through a personal lens. So many people who say they don't like such-and-such people (refugees, for example) actually feel that way because they don't know any! They're just thinking of a generalization, a stereotype, not a living, breathing individual. I'm glad Aman is here and safe and working to better his life.

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    1. To see his neat appearance, his nicely trimmed beard, his polished shoes - most people would never guess that he was a refugee.

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  5. Refugees are just faceless people on the news till you meet one. What a brave soul he is.

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    1. He's not just a number. He's a man with hopes and dreams who may never see his beloved parents again.

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  6. I'd like to ask Aman how he studied Christianity and came to be a believer in a country where proselytization is a serious crime, and if he can name the sect who taught him about Christianity, and where they met to worship, and if he knows the Lord's Prayer. I'd especially like to ask him what church he goes to now. Claiming Christian persecution is a way to make one more sympathetic when applying for asylum. So I too would like to hear more of his story.

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    1. Your slight suspicion about his Christian credentials mirrors some of my own thinking. I always want to take people at face value but experience has taught me that not everything is always as it seems.

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  7. Whatever one's beliefs (or lack of them) we are still human beings.

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    1. Seen from afar, Earth is just a green and blue ball floating in space and we are all earthlings.

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  8. What Vivian says reminds me of something I read when more than one million refugees came to Germany in one single year (2015 or 16). The civil cervants handling the paper work reported frequently that many refugees claimed to be Syrian, since they saw that as their best chance to have their applications for asylum granted. Apparently, in camps in Greece and Italy, young men learned the Syrian national anthem by heart and tried to rattle off lists of place names in Syria without speaking any Arabic themselves. Many of them were from Africa and did not even remotely look as if they could be Syrians. But hardly any of the civil servants dealing with them spoke any Arabic themselves or was in any other way properly trained to talk to asylum seekers to verify their stories, and so many gained permission to stay based on a blatant lie.

    What you say about Aman does not sound at all as if he would have done something like that. He sounds like a very decent man. Did his brother and sister-in-law also leave Iran because of religious persecution? I hope his parents are not under pressure from the government; I hear sometimes this happens to make the "illoyal" return so that they can be persecuted again.

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    1. What I told you in this post is all I know about Aman. He did not seem to be a liar to me. I hope to talk with him again but as I say, I work on Wednesdays and he now works on Thursdays at Oxfam.

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  9. And there are many more stories like Aman's. Religious bigotry and global economic conditions make it so difficult that people will take great risks like Aman.

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  10. It sounds like your refugee processing is faster than ours and more humane. I met men in Sydney's immigration detention who were stuck there for four years.
    I hope he does well.

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    1. Over here in England we have the impression that Australia has some very hard and unwelcoming policies with regard to migrants.

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    2. we currently have 600 men without water, food or medicine stuck on Manus Island. It's worse than a gulag, worse than embarrassing. It's shameful and brutal and completely uneccessary.

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    3. They deserve better than that. It is heart-warming that ordinary Australian citizens like you and Lee feel anger and shame about their plight.

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  11. Amen, to that....

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  12. You'll just have to go charity shopping on a Thursday near closing time, YP ... and find out some more of Aman's story on your way home.

    I would tend to believe what he is saying more than disbelieve it because of his volunteer work. That's not a requirement of the immigration process, is it?

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    1. No - but it helps his CV I guess - re. the time he does go job seeking.

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  13. It would be very interesting to hear more of Aman's story.

    Alphie

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    1. Well if/when I see him again I shall try to dig deeper.

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  14. Yes, as the other Aussies have said our current treatment of refugees, for that is what they are, is simply appalling. I hate it when I am made to feel anything other than proud to be Australian.

    But "Aman's" is a story of hope. Very good luck to him. And he can thank his lucky stars - or his god - that he didn't try to come here! *I hang my head in shame*

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    1. In a sense, all white Australians are either "refugees" or the offspring of "refugeees" so the official attitude to modern day refugees is all the more surprising. Mind you there is a difference between fortune seekers and those who seek safety.

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  15. I have a work colleague from Afghanistan , he was a translator for the Army so had a big Taliban target stuck on his back . Nice bloke, degree educated very dry and funny , hes our health and safety officer and he really sees the irony of, as he puts it "teaching common sense to idiots" He hopes to return home one day but if not hes prepared to make a life here .

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    1. I wonder if he will ever get back to Afghanistan. War and intolerance seem to have been part of Afghanistan's being for so long.

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