I got into work this morning and as part of my routine I settled down behind my desk to open my email. The first item was from a dear old friend in London. Before I left England, we made a promise to each other to keep in touch. His email just took the wind out of me. It made me feel numb and drained of all that start-of-the-day energy and enthusiasm. I don't live in Britain any more, but having spent best part of a life time there, I follow its news and politics from afar. It was a piece of news that I had been dreading.
My friend and had promised to keep each other informed of issues affecting Iran and Iranians. Guess you could say we are trying to keep each other Iranian or help each other not lose sight of who we are. The other thing we shared was a mutual dislike of Thatcherite Britain — one feature of which was something we thought we would never see in Britain. That was and is homeless people in Britain.
There is a charitable organisation there called Big Issue. It tries to help the homeless and keep some semblance of dignity by producing a magazine of the same name and employing the homeless as vendors. The homeless earn a return by selling the magazine at key locations in town, such as underground metro stations. So in our naive way, we would try to help or in reality to ease our conscious — by buying the magazine rather than go for the lottery which we saw as a tax on the stupid.
My friend's email was about a story he had read in the last Big Issue (February 12, 2001). I have obtained permission from The Big Issue to quote excerpts from their article. The story was about the a young Iranian refugee who committed suicide.
“According to his uncle, Ramin Khaleghi had endured 'every evil thing in heaven and earth' in his native Iran. His refusal to be conscripted into the army led to his imprisonment and torture. Nine months ago he arrived in Britain seeking asylum. On January 18 a week after the Home Office rejected his claim, and 16 days after his 26th Birthday he killed himself in his room at a hostel in Leicester. For many his death has already become the symbol of the callousness of Britain's asylum policy.” In view of Frances Webber, a British immigration attorney, “this tragic death appears to be a direct result of the Home Office's willful rejection of asylum claims from Iranians, no matter how compelling.”
As a native of Iran's Kurdistan province, Ramin had refused national service. He was sentenced to prison for four years and suffered torture, as a result of which he had lost movement in one arm. According to medical examination of his injuries the evidence of him being tortured was “irrefutable” and the examining doctor had referred him to the Medical Foundation For The Care Of Victims Of Torture.
I had seen similar stories about Iranians in other European countries but had been naively hoping the country, which gave birth to mother of all parliaments, would not stoop so low. Ramin is one of the many casualties of the New Labour administration's choice of expediency over what is right or just. An administration that sets policy by using marketing techniques such as focus groups. An administration that is desperate to stem the flow of illegal immigrants. An administration that does not have the guts to stand for what is just and has given in to the xenophobia of a vocal section of its electorate.
Admittedly, Britain, like other Western European countries, is facing a huge problem caused by years of neglect by the Thatcher administration that has left the British social system unable to cope with the demand placed on it by its own people. The influx of “economic” refugees is making matters worse. Yet the refugees represent an easy target when it comes to making savings to ease the social burden and keep taxes low.
I fear Ramin won't be the last Iranian in Britain committing suicide in despair as the British government tries to wriggle out of its moral obligation and use such tactics as pointing how moderate the country looks under Khatami to repatriate Iranians. I spent the day writing to a member of parliament for the area I used to live in, and my friends in Britain urging them to do the same. Please give the likes of Ramin a voice.