Tell me how the two of you met.
Jana: I was living in Uzbekistan, and Ramin’s sister was staying with me.
Ramin: My family had a company in Uzbekistan, and we often went to Uzbekistan to work.
This interview is being done in Icelandic, and I know you have a grasp of English. What language do the two of you speak with each other?
Ramin: We speak Russian. I learned Russian by working for five years in [Uzbekistan capital] Tashkent. We also speak a little Persian together.
So what made you two decide to leave Uzbekistan?
Ramin: After being in Uzbekistan for four or five years, it was difficult. Because I’m not Uzbek, I always needed a visa. Sometimes they gave me one, sometimes they didn’t. It was expensive, and the government was always causing some kind of problem. I talked to my parents about it, who were living in Denmark at the time, and they were telling us to just come to Denmark.
We’ve been told that no one picks Iceland as their first choice of a country to seek asylum in. Did you originally you plan on going to Denmark?
Ramin: I thought about it. My father said, “If you don’t want to be there, come here. We have political asylum here.” He spoke to Danish immigration authorities about me and they said I needed to go to the nearest Danish embassy. At the same time, I thought that while I wanted to be with my parents, it would be better for us [Ramin and Jana] to be on our own.
My parents asked, “If Iceland’s so great, how come so many Icelanders live in Denmark?” But in my heart I felt it was good for me to come here, to Iceland.
The both of you speak Icelandic very well for only having been here less than two years. How did you learn the language so quickly?
Ramin: When we first came here, a woman at the Red Cross asked us if we want to learn Icelandic. We said, of course we want to learn. We want to get a good paying job after all. So she helped out and after about a week we started taking classes. It didn’t cost us anything because we were refugees.
Immigration authorities here aren’t easily convinced that someone seeking political asylum deserves it. Was it difficult to convince the authorities of your refugee status?
Ramin: Yes. We arrived in November 2003. At that time Jana was pregnant [with their son, Tomas]. It was hard to convince immigration that we were refugees. We had someone at the Office of Immigration tell us that they didn’t believe we qualified for refugee status. So again we went to the Red Cross and they got us a good lawyer who promised us that everything would work out. He filed a case and we won a one-year residency. We just now got another two and a half years.
I’ve known many immigrants who find it difficult to adjust to Iceland. How have you two been settling in?
Ramin: It was difficult at first; going to school, studying, raising a kid.
Jana: But now we like it very much. It’s a lot easier because we understand more Icelandic and have a lot of friends.
There often seem to be limited opportunities for immigrants. What do the two of you ultimately see yourself working in?
Ramin: I don’t know now. I have to start at zero; to start by learning Icelandic and then find whatever work I can get.
Jana: I originally wanted to be a dentist, and then a pediatrician. Now it’s difficult to say. I have to know the language better. But if my language improves I would still like to be a doctor.
Ramin: My mother taught medicine, and my sister was in medicine, so for a while I thought maybe I’d go into medicine, too. Right now I’m trying to become a math teacher. It’s difficult because of the language. I think if I was still in Afghanistan, I would be involved with politics. My father used to work with [Afghan President Hamid] Karzai.
Have either of you thought of going back to Uzbekistan or Afghanistan if the situation there improves?
Ramin: We don’t think about going back, but Afghanistan is my home and I miss it, of course. If some time in the future it calms down there, maybe. But we don’t think about that now. I would have to say that the Afghanis are a very unlucky people. First there was the British, then Pakistan, then the Soviet Union, the US, and now even Iran has become a problem.
Jana: We have family there, and we miss them, but we’re a family now, too.
Ramin: Things were great in Afghanistan when I was about ten years old. I really liked living there.
Have recent events in Kyrgyzstan [where a popular and nearly bloodless uprising caused longtime president Askar Akayev to resign] given either of you hope that democracy and stability will come to the region?
Ramin: After the Soviet Union left Afghanistan, my father predicted that sooner or later, something like this would happen. The president of Uzbekistan thinks only of himself; not of the people. If you work for the president, or know someone who does, then you can get a job. If you don’t know anyone, then you don’t work. You can see that. Kyrgyzstan now is better than Uzbekistan ever was.
Jana: If you’re not in the government, you can’t work. I saw on the news just the other day that 700 people were killed [during clashes between protestors and government security forces in Uzbekistan]. This is why people rise up – you just can’t take it any more. It’s very upsetting to me, too, because I still have family there.
Ramin: Changes always come about when people have nothing left to lose.