Last month’s brutal chemical attack in Clapham, suspected to have been carried out by Christian convert Abdul Ezedi, has ignited a debate on whether religion should be a valid reason for seeking asylum.
This shocking incident has raised concerns about the authenticity of religious conversions and whether some individuals are exploiting the system. As someone hailing from Iran, I condemn this inhumane attack but emphasise the perilous circumstances faced by those fleeing religious persecution.
In Iran, it is forbidden to practice any religion other than the government’s particular, politicised version of Islam, and the oppressive regime has wielded religion as a powerful tool for many years. The authorities vehemently reject any beliefs diverging from theirs, with severe consequences for those who dare to question or convert.
For me, growing up in Iran, the oppressive atmosphere of religious intolerance was stifling. I was compelled to adhere to stringent Islamic practices, including mandatory Quranic study and compulsory mosque attendance. Dissent was met with brutal consequences.
I discovered Christianity during my high school years and found solace in clandestine home churches, despite the inherent risks. The pervasive fear of arrest and the spectre of death sentences loomed ominously. The mere thought of being caught practicing Christianity filled me with dread, as the consequences were dire.
The regime's iron-fisted enforcement of religious conformity instilled a sense of terror and hopelessness. The ever-present threat of arrest, torture, and even execution cast a shadow over every aspect of daily life.
For my family and I, seeking refuge in a country like the UK became not just a desire but an urgent necessity for survival. The notion of returning to Iran, where arrest and torture awaited at every border crossing, was inconceivable. The regime's brutal methods, including torture and sexual violence in custody, left us permanently in fear.
The constant spectre of facing the death penalty for apostasy under Islamic law loomed large, leaving us with no choice but to seek asylum abroad. Upon arrival, we were able to navigate the incredibly complex asylum system in this country with help from our lawyer at the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI), and eventually claim asylum.
Not everyone is so lucky, and we know that for every person whose claim is recognised there are others who are sent back to face persecution, or worse.
For those of us who are safe here, our hearts go out to those still suffering under the regime. The tragic death of Mahsa Amini, brutally beaten and killed by police moral forces, has further intensified the oppressive environment for women and men who dare to question the prescribed norms. In the aftermath of Amini's death, countless individuals have faced arrests, torture, and execution, prompting many to make the difficult choice of leaving their homeland, family, and friends behind in pursuit of freedom to practice their beliefs without fear of persecution.
The journey to escape such oppressive regimes is perilous, with individuals facing unknown dangers while crossing borders and enduring long, cold nights fraught with worry about the safety of their loved ones left behind. The United Kingdom, guided by laws that prohibit discrimination based on religious beliefs, has become a beacon of hope for those seeking refuge. The Church, irrespective of an individual's faith, has played a vital role in providing support and assistance to asylum seekers, embodying the principles of compassion and understanding. The personal narrative of individuals fleeing religious persecution sheds light on the profound fear and desperation that accompanies such harrowing journeys.
However, the recent attack in Clapham has falsely cast a shadow over the asylum process, particularly for those who have converted to Christianity. It is essential to remember that Christianity, like many other religions, advocates peace and love. The teachings of Jesus emphasize the importance of loving one another and spreading no hate. Many individuals arrive in the UK seeking to escape persecution and violence, hoping to practice their faith freely without fear of reprisal.
Using this shocking attack as a basis to hinder asylum seekers from finding sanctuary in the UK would be a grave injustice.
Returning to their home countries, individuals risk arrest and persecution at any border crossing into Iran. As I reflect on my journey and the countless others who have sought asylum in the UK, I am reminded of the importance of upholding our values of tolerance and acceptance.
Every individual, regardless of their religious beliefs, deserves the right to live free from persecution and discrimination. By standing together in solidarity, we can create a society where compassion triumphs over fear, and justice prevails for all who seek refuge on our shores.
Ali D is a client of the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants.
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