This is the story of my mother, Ziba, and our family’s struggle to be reunited.
BY SOLMAZ FARNIAN HAMADANI • ILLUSTRATION BY MARIE BOYE THOMSEN
In 2009 I was allowed to send an invitation to my mother in Iran, so that she might come and visit me after many years apart. At the same time, she might be lucky enough to witness the birth of her grandchild. In order for me to send her a visa, I was required to have permanent employment and an economy able to support my mother during her stay in Denmark. I applied for many jobs, and in the end was hired by McDonald’s. My mother was allowed to come on September 17, 2009 on a three month visa. Within two hours of her arrival, I gave birth to my child. This was a great experience for us after so many years of separation. In this way, I felt that I was able to repay her for the love she had given me throughout my childhood.
That same day my mother had another lovely experience, which was meeting Erik and Birgitte. Erik is part of Grandparents for Asylum, and I met him many years ago at asylum center Avnstrup. They are loving and faithful people who have become like a family for me here in Denmark. Meeting them rekindled feelings in my mother’s heart, since she was surprised at the way strangers could treat her daughter, as if she were their own. Eventually, she started to feel that their God was also the right God for her.
My mother returned to Iran, but was allowed to come and visit us several times during the following years. During this time, she got to know Erik and Birgitte better, and they showed great affection and care towards her, and made her believe that God is not evil. It is human beings who are cruel towards each other.
In 2012 my mother’s visa expired. Visiting us was liberating for her, burdened as she was by many difficult experiences in her homeland. She stayed with us for some months, before she had to apply for asylum. I took my mother to the Immigration Service in Copenhagen to ask whether it was possible to extend her visa, so that my mother could remain here with me and her grandchildren for a longer time. But when the answer was no, I had to tell them what had happened to my mother in Iran. She was a victim of rape. It was hard for me to find the words and tell a stranger something so horrifying. I told the case worker that this violation had been perpetrated by her ex-husband and a colleague of his. I told them that I had come to learn that my mother’s life is in danger in Iran.
I had received an e-mail from my mother’s friend who kept the key to her apartment in order to take care of her flowers and mail during my mother’s stay in Denmark. It was the same friend who, at the time following the rape, had helped my mother to the hospital in Tehran. In the e-mail, this friend wrote that my mother had gotten a letter in which it said that she had to report to the nearest police station in Tehran, due to an accusation by her ex-husband – of adultery. Upon reading this, we understood that my mother’s complaint from the hospital following the rape had been received by the police, but that it had been turned into an accusation towards her.
The police had contacted the ex-husband, and at the police station he said that the accusations towards him were untrue. Instead, he claimed that my mother had been unfaithful, and that this was the reason she had fled from Iran – knowing what the consequences would be. During the rape, the ex-husband had threatened to do something even worse if she ever spoke of it to anyone. In the end, she might be the one who would receive the death penalty.
No one could have prepared us for these serious accusations. It would be impossible for a single woman in Iran to protect herself from the authorities after having left the country and being branded an adulterous woman. Now we understood as a family just how dangerous the situation would be, if she were to go back to Iran. We know very well that the punishment for adultery would be either stoning or hanging to death. We all feared for my mother’s life – including my Danish parents, Erik and Birgitte.
We asked the Immigration Service for advice. When I had told them everything, they informed me that my mother has the right to apply for asylum in Denmark. This was to happen in Camp Sandholm.
Some months later I got another e-mail from my mother’s friend, who had received an allegation letter directly from a police officer at my mother’s address in Iran. It said that my mother had been sentenced to 72 lashes and six years in prison, as well as a financial penalty. I then forwarded this letter from the Iranian authorities to the Immigration Service, along with a copy of the medical report from the investigation of my mother’s injuries after the rape.
After my mother’s first contact with the Refugee Appeals Board, we received the reply that the documents were false and that my mother’s story was not credible. Therefore, her case was rejected.
Several months before my mother got the rejection (December 2014, around Christmas) she explained to Birgitte that she would like to become baptized, since she felt connected to the God in which Birgitte believed. My mother was baptized on December 30, 2015.
After the first rejection from the Refugee Appeals Board, her case was closed and nearly two years passed. In early 2017, my mother was called to an interview with the Danish police. She was informed that if she did not voluntarily return to Iran, she would have to live in the departure center Kærshovedgård in Ikast.
My mother did not have a choice. She had to leave her daughter and grandchildren behind and go to Kærshovedgård, since clearly she would not go back to Iran.
I told the police that my mother cannot return to Iran, since she would now also be punished for having converted. The police officer asked me why we had not presented this information to Immigration Service so that the case might be reopened. I answered that I was not aware that you had to tell them about something as private as religion in order to have your case reopened.
Then I gave the certificate of baptism to the police. They told me that I should seek out a lawyer who could write to the Refugee Appeals Board about reopening the case. Seven days after this interview, my mother was supposed to travel to Kærshovedgård. Leading up to this, my mother started getting chest pains and was taken with an ambulance to the hospital in Holbæk. They did not find anything. The doctor asked my mother whether something was troubling her. We explained that my mother was undergoing a lot of pressure and that she was not feeling well. They talked for a while, and my mother told us that she was having suicidal thoughts, because she has lost all hope for her life. Thereupon, the doctor contacted the psychiatric ward. My mother was admitted to Roskilde Hospital’s psychiatric ward for a few days, and the Immigration Service was notified. Upon discharge from the hospital she was briefly allowed to come back home. Once she had further calmed down at home, I chose to drive her myself to departure center Kærshovedgård.
During my mother’s stay at Kærshovedgård, I got in touch with a lawyer who had been recommended to us by the priest and the interpreter at Hillerød Church. The case was reopened after a few months.
Then came the day of my mother’s court case and the reconsideration of her claim for asylum.
Our good friend Birgitte, who is a priest and who carried out my mother’s baptism, was asked by the lawyer if she would testify. Of course she agreed.
My mother ended up with another rejection. The court called into question the dates presented by Birgitte and my mother for when my mother first expressed her desire to become baptized. It was merely a matter of a difference of a few months between my mother’s and Birgitte’s statements.
Furthermore, my mother was rejected on the grounds that she, upon first contacting the Refugee Appeals Board, should have mentioned the fact that she was becoming interested in Christianity. My mother’s answer was that she had not considered it relevant for her case, since religion is a private issue. Those details were enough to doom my mother’s case.
The court would not give her a chance to prove that she was telling the truth. Even when the lawyer asked the court whether they wanted to question Birgitte as well, they chose to decline. Is this because they had already decided on the case before the trial even began? I feel my mother is the victim of a miscarriage of justice.
This is her story. She was unjustly treated in Iran – she was the victim. She hides her story because she feels ashamed, but she must share her story here in Denmark in order to ask for help. But Denmark is rejecting her. I cannot believe this is really happening.
I take care of elderly Danish citizens in home care in Roskilde – why can’t I be allowed to take care of my own mother? Do my mother, my children and I really deserve this treatment?