Five years of living in the United Kingdom has changed Odi’s life immensely after experiencing years of religious persecution and political unrest in his home country, Iran. Even though he has lived all over the UK, London takes first prize in places he loves. Despite a long, difficult journey from Iran to Istanbul to London as a refugee, away from his wife and son, Odi continues to maintain an optimistic view about life, as well as a love and appreciation for the British people he has made friends with.
Speaking to Odi, it is a surprise when he explains that his fluent English is not the result of taking an English class but that he actually learned the language from speaking to people in the park. In his opinion, "the best way to know a place is to go to the park," which he did upon arrival in the UK after seeking asylum five years ago. The journey to the UK included months of interchanging periods of fearful waiting and constant travel. Though the trip itself took several months, the impetus for his wish to leave began many years ago in his birthplace of Tehran, Iran. He grew up in a very religious family where he felt forced to take part in practices that he did not quite understand. His questions always went unanswered.
After attending university to study computer science in the field of computer networking, he worked as a teacher and later, a computer manager. Odi continued to ask questions about both the religious and, also later on, political situation in Iran. As a result, he was imprisoned for three months. His father helped him get released for two days for permission to get a medical check-up on his heart problem. From here Odi’s escape from Iran commenced. A taxi drove him to a town bordering Afghanistan and Pakistan where he ran to a border village and spent two weeks in Karachi, Pakistan, until he was able to get a fake passport. After a flight to Istanbul, Odi spent seven months there because his body was in a poor condition from health issues and life in prison. Rather than risk travelling by plane, he rode in the back of a lorry from Istanbul to London. After living off dates, cheese and water for 28 days, the driver finally opened the gates to the door and said, "you can go now," and when Odi asked, "where are we," the driver said, "England, you are safe now."
At first, Odi struggled with the Home Office who refused his case. They thought he was lying because a truck trip from Istanbul to London should only take two weeks but it took him 28 days due to stopping for multiple days at a time. For four years he was homeless and had no support. Now he has a fresh claim and gets basic support for food each week on Azure cards which do not allow him to get money for travel and many other essential items. His Home Office identity card reads ‘Forbidden from taking employment.’ Currently he waits for a response to his fresh claim, but this restriction does not stop him from filling up his days and engaging in the British community.
Volunteering is a crucial part of Odi’s life, and his experiences include a year and a half as a mentor in a project at the Migrant and Refugee Communities Forum (MRCF) and doing IT Work at Migrant Voice. "I’m happy about my volunteer time," he said as he described helping his mentee overcome his fear of communicating with English speaking people. He believes in the importance of being an active member in the community. A typical day for Odi is spent all over the city. He often goes to the library to read, spends time at the MRCF or with friends and walks around the park to meet and converse with people. Often, he catches many by surprise with his story and they enjoy talking to him, "because they don’t know any refugees."
After living in London for the past year, Odi naturally has found his favourite places to go and things to do. He loves Westminster Abbey and Uxbridge and he would like to be able to go see a production at a theatre or an opera. Observing and speaking with people are two things he really enjoys doing. He particularly strives to talk to as many people as possible who are also in his position. Sadly, "many refugees think that the English hate them," and he works to change their minds by sharing his positive experiences with them. "People here are so lovely," he says, and they encourage him not to give up.
Despite facing so many obstacles, including homelessness, his friends help keep him grounded on multiple levels. The people of London and the friends he has made from all over the world cause this to be the city he loves. "London is beautiful because many people from other countries are here and bring their cultures here." If he gets his status, Odi hopes to bring his wife and son, who are still in Iran, to London. His dreams include attending university to study psychology after he becomes a more native English speaker. While he waits to hear from the Home Office, he continues to be optimistic and make the most of his life in London.
Article by Tara Higgins
London Eye photo by: Mike Peel