Human Rights: 'In prison you hear the executions'

Margaret Rogerson spoke to two survivors of horrific human rights abuses. All photographs by Philip Meech
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Indy Lifestyle Online
Sohrob is a refugee from Iran. He has lived in England for seven years.

"WHEN PEOPLE ask why I chose to come to England the simple answer is that I didn't. It is assumed that there is something voluntary about moving from the country of your birth to an alien society. Refugees do not leave their country voluntarily, they have no other option.

I was forced to leave my country because my life in Iran had become too dangerous. Because of my left-wing political activities I had to spend time in prison. Prison is a different world. All the time you wait for death. You can hear the sound of executions and firing. Some of my friends underwent fake executions. After being tortured they would pledge their allegiance to Islam - in order to see if this was genuine the guards would take them outside and pretend to shoot them. Some of the prisoners, thinking that this was the end, would expose their true feelings and shout defiantly 'Long live the socialist regime'. Then they would be shot. If you didn't shout anything your life might be saved.

My shoulder and neck, back and feet were badly damaged because of my experiences in prison. I was hung, suspended from the ceiling with one hand behind my neck and one hand behind my back. Both of my hands were chained supporting the weight of my body. Your arm muscles can only resist this for about five minutes and then you lose consciousness. My arm is still badly damaged, and because of extensive nerve damage I have to wear a contraption that continually massages the nerves in my hand.

After three years in prison I decided that I had to leave Iran. While I was in prison, under an assumed name, a death sentence had been ordered in another town. I escaped by crossing the mountains into Turkey. At first I intended to go to Sweden but when I arrived in England I was told that because I had travelled under a different name I would either have to reside temporarily or go back to Iran.

When I first arrived in England I didn't even know that I would be able to seek asylum. I was overwhelmed by everything. The process of arrival is the most difficult period in the life of a refugee. It is a combination of excitement multiplied by anxiety.

At the beginning I really didn't know if I had made the right decision. I was forced to make a complete and conscious break with my past. Everything I knew - my family and my culture - I had to leave behind, trying to fit into an alien society.

If I had not been introduced to the Medical Foundation at this time I don't know what I would have done. The Medical Foundation followed my case and I was examined by a doctor from the Home Office. I got asylum straight away. Every day for the first six months I visited the Medical Centre. They helped me find somewhere to live and gave me practical support about legal matters and housing benefits. They made the process of assimilation much easier and I don't know how I would have managed without them. The Medical Foundation are like my family.

Despite the injury to my hand I am training to be an architect. I feel that I have done everything I need to do to make this society accept me. I can contribute a lot, but without the Medical Foundation's support my fate might have been completely different."