Iran is a beautiful country. Growing up there, I had a good life, with a big community of friends and family. But then, suddenly, my life was in danger, and I simply knew that I had to leave. I didn’t know where I was heading to, but I knew I needed to be somewhere safe. Just like all the people that are coming to this country I was fleeing for my life.
I passed through many countries, but none of them felt safe for me. When I got to Greece, I applied under the family reunion laws of the time to join a relative of mine in the UK. Even though I had family here, my life was not without its challenges. I was still learning English, and I relied on the kindness of strangers to get me through the first months.
Still, at least I could walk the streets without fear. Now, though, I am not so sure. Even though I have refugee status, am confident in English and busy with work, a little part of me fears that I too could be sent to Rwanda.
Everyone is affected by this fear. Many asylum seekers I know now don’t want to leave the house, just in case something happens. One of my friends is being bullied by a British student at his college, and he was afraid that if he got involved in a fight, he would be sent to Rwanda. People are staying at home feeling like they are in prison. The Rwandan plan has made them afraid again.
As an activist, I am worried what will happen to me if I oppose Priti Patel and the Rwandan plan. I still remember a stranger asking a friend of mine why she was travelling with “this terrorist”. It hurt then, and it still hurts now. Already, the phrase ‘get on a flight to Rwanda’ is being used as a term of abuse against those speaking up for refugees’ rights.
It is hard to know the real Rwanda, because it is such a closed country, although the UK government itself warned last year of “alleged extrajudicial killings, deaths in custody, enforced disappearances, and torture”. What I do know, is that I’ve met Rwandan refugees. Some of them are Muslim and said it wasn’t safe for them there, and one of them, who is a lesbian, told me it was really difficult for her too. Just as Iran can be safe for some, and dangerous for others, so, too, is Rwanda.