“We Just Want An Ordinary Life”

“We Just Want An Ordinary Life”

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Photos by
Art Bicnick

Published August 30, 2016

Torpikey Farrash and Maryam Raísi, a mother and daughter from Afghanistan, are hoping against the odds to fulfill one simple dream – to lead ordinary lives in Iceland – but they are currently facing deportation.

As reported, the two were subject to considerable persecution in Afghanistan, on account of being Shia Muslims and belonging to the Hazara ethnic minority, which has been subject to intense persecution. After traveling between Afghanistan and Iran for some years, the situation became so dangerous they were forced to flee to Europe, ending up in Sweden.

Swedish authorities, however, rejected their application for asylum because they felt Maryam’s accent sounded more like she was from Iran than Afghanistan. Torpikey told us Maryam’s accent can be explained by the fact that they lived in Iran while Maryam was still quite young, and as such her accent was coloured by the local language.

Nonetheless, Icelandic authorities have declined to even open their case, and both the Directorate of Immigration and the Immigration Appeals Board have rejected their application on the grounds of the Dublin Regulation – an international agreement which gives signatory states the power, although not the obligation, to deport asylum seekers back to their previous point of departure if they had applied for asylum elsewhere.

We have heard that the women here are very strong, and that they have full rights. So we came here to have our rights, as human beings and as women.

In the past year since first coming to Iceland, the wait on an answer from Icelandic authorities have proven quite challenging.

“It has been a very difficult time for us,” Torpikey told us. “Because every day, we are full of stress and worries, and because of my sickness, Maryam has had to be at home with me every day.”

Here, the sickness that Torpikey refers to is her post-traumatic stress disorder, combined with memory loss and her high blood pressure. She told us that while she has been able to receive some basic medical treatment, social services have restricted what medicine and treatment she can have access to. Social services has, she says, denied her access to some medicine and treatment that she considers essential but Icelandic authorities do not. For this medicine and treatment, she has to pay full price, and with an asylum seeker’s stipend amounting to about 10,700 ISK per week, receiving this has proved all but impossible. As such, her condition has only worsened.

“I’m not so much worried about myself,” Torpikey says. “I am more worried about Maryam, because she is still quite young but can’t live like an ordinary teenager. The situation is starting to affect her, and it makes me very worried about her.”

One of the things that attracted the two to Iceland is that they learned women in this country enjoy equal rights with men; Afghanistan, by contrast, Torpikey says is a very masculinist culture.

“In Afghan culture, it’s not considered good to be without any man,” she told us. “If they send us back to Afghanistan, we will be in danger. There is no doubt that they will just kill us, or some man will claim Maryam as his. There are no rights for women. Men can do anything to women there.”

Ultimately, the two have only one simple wish: to lead ordinary lives in Iceland.

“We have heard that the women here are very strong, and that they have full rights,” Torpikey told us. “So we came here to have our rights, as human beings and as women. We ask the Icelandic people to stand by us. Some people think that we came here to have a better life. But it’s not like that. We just came here to have an ordinary life. We came to live without danger, and to be secure.”

A petition to Icelandic authorities to let Torpikey and Maryam stay in Iceland has received over 2,700 signatures at the time of this writing.

“Sending the mother and daughter back to Sweden will be one more trauma in their life-long search for safety and security,” the petition text reads in part. “If they are deported to Sweden, they will have little hope of having the processing error made in their application corrected, which will lead to them being immediately sent to Afghanistan, where they will be in considerable danger.”

Many of the Icelanders commenting on the petition have expressed shock and sadness at UTL’s decision, as one succinctly put it: “Iceland is big enough for those women and many more.”


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