Published September 13, 2016
Morteza Songolzadeh, an asylum seeker from Iran who has been working as a volunteer interpreter for Reykjavík, is due to be taken into police custody and deported any day now. He tells the Grapevine that he is emotionally and physically exhausted from this ordeal, and is plagued by nightmares of what fate awaits him in Iran.
As reported, Morteza, who has been living in Iceland for over a year now, was forced to flee Iran because he committed the offense of apostasy – specifically, he converted to Christianity – the sentence for which is death. Nonetheless, both the Directorate of Immigration (UTL) and the Immigration Appeals Board have rejected his application for asylum, without even opening his case file, on the grounds of the Dublin Regulation – an international ruling which gives authorities the power, although not the obligation, to deport asylum seekers back to their previous point of departure.
If the Directorate or the Appeals Board had opened his case file, they might have seen the following documents – the official ruling of an Iranian court that he is to be executed for apostasy, and its translation:
Photos: Morteza’s death sentence, handed down by the Public Court of Iran, with translation.
Today, he anxiously awaits being contacted by police and being put on a plane back to France, a country where he never sought asylum, knows no one, and invokes fears in Morteza based on the treatment of asylum seekers in that country. From there, he is deeply worried that he will be sent to Iran.
“I am living with uncertainty, fear, and I don’t know what to do,” Morteza told us. “I hopelessly continue my Icelandic classes at the university. I keep thinking about what will happen to me. I really don’t know what to do. There’s so much pressure on me and I’m exhausted with all this.”
Morteza says he can barely get any sleep, as he is often visited by nightmares of the kinds of public hangings that Iran is known for.
Morteza’s lawyer, Eva Dóra Kolbrúnardóttir, has filed a formal complaint with the Parliamentary Ombudsman regarding the treatment of Morteza’s case. The complaint contends that neither the Directorate nor the Appeals Board had acted lawfully in the treatment of Morteza’s case – specifically, that they did not act on exceptions outlined in the Dublin Regulation and in Icelandic law that an asylum case can be opened and examined in special circumstances. Being sentenced to death for apostasy, Eva told The Grapevine, certainly constitutes a special circumstance.
If the application for asylum should fail, Eva says that the back-up plan will be to apply for a temporary residence permit with a work permit for Morteza. As he has university education in English literature, and work experience as an interpreter, he is certainly a candidate for joining Iceland’s workforce. Unfortunately, by Icelandic law he must be outside the country when this application is filed, and he must have an employer confirm for authorities that they are ready to hire him. If he gets an employer’s confirmation that they will hire him in the next few days, before Morteza is deported, she can ask the Directorate to make an exception to let him stay in Iceland while his application is being processed. This will also mean withdrawing his application for asylum, as an individual can not both be applying for work and residency permit and asylum at the same time.
“My main effort is to focus on getting Morteza asylum, but Plan B is to get a work contract for him here in Iceland,” Eva told us. “Of course it’s not definite, but I can still work on this, even if he’s not in the country.”
Regardless, Morteza’s fears remain.
“Every day, every hour, I am waiting for the police to call me,” he told us. “I cannot sleep. All those images of people hanging appear before me when I close my eyes.”
Morteza regularly receives texts and Facebook messages from Icelanders he doesn’t even know, expressing their support, sadness, and willingness to help. The Grapevine saw some of these messages, and the outpouring of support from the general public, while touching, is unsurprising – an overwhelming majority of Icelanders believe the government should do more to grant asylum to people facing war and persecution.
However, the Directorate has been decidedly unmoved, insisting that Morteza present his case to French authorities instead. In fact, the responses from the Directorate to Morteza have been almost word-for-word identical to decisions they have handed down to other asylum seekers slated for deportation – only the names change.
“I’ve been trying my best for 13 months to convince [the Directorate] of my case,” he says. “But unfortunately, nothing happened.”