Published February 6, 2017
The fiancé of Amir Shokrgozar, an Iranian asylum seeker who was unexpectedly arrested and deported last week, spoke candidly with The Grapevine about his experience. His identity is being withheld on request.
As reported, Amir was in the hospital and had been newly released when police apprehended him and took him into custody. He was deported the following morning. The operation was highly unusual; asylum seekers are normally given notice of when the police will come to fetch them. Amirs fiancé, an Icelander, told us he learned that the arrest and deportation was conducted as unexpectedly as it was because the police feared they would attempt to hide Amir from authorities.
A petition is being circulated calling for the Icelandic government to bring Amir back home, and a fund has been initiated by the asylum seeker and refugee NGO Solaris and Samtökin ’78 – for Icelanders, donations can be sent to bank account number 526-14-403211, kennitala 040986-2869.
The following is his fiancé’s statement. More on Amir’s story follows the statement:
I am Amir’s boyfriend, and we have been together for about a year. He asked me to marry him last December 23.
During the past year, I have followed the course of his application for a residence permit and his fight with the system in Iceland. This has had a mixed effect on him, but the morning of his final rejection hurt him deeply.
The last rejection was in November 2016, and after that he didn’t feel very well at all, knowing that from here he would be sent to Italy, where he was raped in 2010. We have a good lawyer, who tried to get a marital status certificate from the County Seat, which went very badly, as amongst other things they required a birth certificate from Amir, but an Iranian citizen only gets one of these once in their lives. At the end of last January, Amir became very depressed, as he was afraid of being sent to Italy, although he has never struggled with clinical depression in his life. He voluntarily checked himself into the psychiatric ward, and I was pleased that he did so.
When I went to pick him up on February 1, in just as bad condition as he was when he went in, three police officers in an unmarked police car that was parked at the exit of the psychiatric ward suddenly jumped out and apprehended him. He didn’t even get to go home and get his belongings from his room; I had to do this instead. I told Amir I would talk to our lawyer and then come to the police station immediately. I completely broke down, crying on the phone with our lawyer, told her what just happened and she was completely shocked. We were led to believe we would be notified when the police would come for him. But no, the police were worried that we would try to hide Amir, but we were never informed of this. Amir was very upset at the police station, and the police used force to get him into his cell.
In reality, I had a nervous breakdown that day, to see my fiancé being taken from me, knowing that he felt terribly. When I got to his room, I was crying continuously, gathering his things and bringing them to the police station. I intended then to go back to his room and collect some private belongings, as I thought this was the last time I would ever see him. I returned to his room, sat on his bed, and cried like a baby. In the end, I managed to collect these things.
For two days, I knew nothing about his state or his whereabouts; whether he had arrived in Italy, where he was or how he felt. Finally, on Friday February 3, I heard from him through Facebook. Just hearing his voice made me break down and sob again, maybe more out of joy than anything else, just to hear from him. After he was arrested, a lot was written about him, where and how he was arrested, and a fund had also been started so he could attend to his basic needs. I am very grateful for this.
Numerous ways to get him to be able to come back to Iceland and stay here are being explored, as he has said that he feels at home here. It’s here that he has found peace and security. I am crying now as I write this, because I miss him so much.
Pirate Party MP Gunnar Hrafn Jónsson, who as a journalist for RÚV has covered matters in the Middle East extensively, expressed sadness and horror at the news to Grapevine.
“I haven’t been able to make any deep study of this man’s case but simply having come forward to tell the media he is gay,” he told us. “That is more than enough to have him put to death by suspension hanging in front of a crowd of screaming onlookers. I have seen videos smuggled out by activists and they rival ISIS in brutality, death takes a long time to come. If there is any chance he could get sent back to face that fate, that has to be a key factor in considering his asylum request.”
As reported first by GayIceland, Amir left his home country of Iran due to persecution for his sexuality.
“My father was executed in the beginning of the Iranian Islamic revolution, when I was only two,” he says. “So my mother raised me and my three sisters on her own but the family was always under the mercy of the government, because of my father. Then I was reported to the authorities for being a homosexual so I was at risk of being arrested. [Iran has capital punishment for sexual conduct with person of the same-sex.] So because of my safety I was forced to flee from Iran.”
During his flight, he ended up in Italy where, despite not wanting to seek asylum there, he was fingerprinted and put in a refugee centre. There, his nightmare began.
“What I went through in the refugee camp in Italy was very difficult for me,” he said. “I experienced physical and psychological harassment so I left the camp and was living on the streets for 6 months. That time was very difficult; there were times when I had to go and sleep under the table of other refugees. And sometimes I didn‘t even have that possibility. Sometimes I didn‘t even have anything to eat and so I had to say yes to people who asked me to have sex with them instead. But they often treated me really badly, cutting me, beating me up and throwing me out of their house. So I experienced a lot of psychological, physical and sexual violence in Italy.”
Since arriving in Iceland, he has been active with learning Icelandic at Tækniskólinn, as well as volunteering at the Red Cross and Samtökin ’78.
Despite all this, the Directorate of Immigration and the Immigration Appeals Board have rejected his request for asylum in Iceland, and will deport him back to Italy.
Auður Magndís Auðardóttir, Director of Samtökin ’78, told Gay Iceland that immigration authorities are woefully ignorant about the challenges and hardships LGBTI+ asylum seekers face, and this case in particular is especially egregious.
“We are talking about a gay man who has suffered barbaric violence and is because of that mentally quite ill,” she said. “The Directorate of Immigration doesn’t doubt his sexuality or how he feels, but still doesn’t come to the conclusion that he is in a sensitive position. To me that’s absolutely incomprehensible. Either it shows a total lack of empathy or ignorance when it comes to the reality that queer asylum seekers are faced with.”