Iranian asylum-seeker says he was 'one step from death'

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The Independent Online

A gay Iranian man who has been granted asylum in Britain after he claimed he faced the death penalty in his home country has spoken for the first time of his extraordinary fight to stop his deportation.

Mehdi Kazemi, now 20, told The Independent that he believed he was "one step away from death" after the British Government had ordered his return to Iran in 2006. He explained: "One minute I was still going to school in Brighton and the next minute I was told that they had signed a deportation order against me and I would be going back in Iran a few days later."

Mr Kazemi said: "I was devastated and I felt that I was only one step away from death. I was told that I could appeal against the decision to deport me once I was back in Iran, but I thought, how can this be possible? Who will appeal? My dead body? I knew that only a miracle could save me then."

He also described his shock when he discovered that his former boyfriend had been arrested by the Iranian state police and executed for sodomy in 2005. "Life has been very hard for me ever since I heard that my former boyfriend had been executed. I was very scared about what would happen to me and this is why I claimed asylum in the UK.

"I knew that the people of this country accepted homosexuality and that the Government gave equal rights to people regardless of their sexuality."

He added: "So when my asylum claim was refused I was shocked and very disappointed. I had expected more. I had expected to be given the same rights as people here. I thought the Government would understand the very difficult situation that I was in."

Mr Kazemi said he had no choice but to flee Britain for the Netherlands. But during his detention at a Rotterdam immigration centre he became so depressed that he said was close to suicide.

The Government's decision this week to allow him to stay in the UK was "the best news I have ever had", said Mr Kazemi, who also wished to thank all of those who showed an interest in his case.

He specifically acknowledged the support of his MP, Simon Hughes, his family in the UK, lawyers in the UK and the Netherlands and The Independent, which had first written about his case.

"So I am back now and living with one of my uncles," he said. "I am making plans to continue with my studies. I would really like to go to university to study pharmacology."