Leon Symons of The Jewish Chronicle tells the unlikely story of a Jewish family from Iran who ended up living on a tough council estate in Scotland. Why Scotland? Because Glasgow is a designated dispersal centre for asylum-seekers who come to the UK. The Jewish asylum-seekers are taken under the wing of Jewish Care in Scotland.
In the past eight years, 10 families officially identified as Jewish have sought asylum in the UK. These families have fled persecution and fear of death in countries such as Iran, Iraq and the former Soviet Union. They arrive here typically having made perilous journeys of thousands of miles. They are afraid, confused, disorientated. And then they get sent to Glasgow.(..)
Parham is a 50-year-old former samovar manufacturer from Tehran. He brought his wife Leila, who is 43, and their two young daughters to Britain in 2002 to avoid being arrested by the Iranian authorities for helping to smuggle fellow Jews out of the country.
The family were granted residents status by the Home Office last summer and can remain in Britain. Parham says their lives have changed dramatically — for good and bad — since they made it over the border to Turkey, the first step on the road that has taken them to Scotland.
“Glasgow is certainly very different from when we were in Iran,” says Parham. “We had a good life economically there, but there was no freedom. Here there is democracy and freedom. That is the good side. But there is another side which is not so good, because this is not my homeland and my family is not here, so that makes it much harder.
“After we escaped, my father was taken in several times for questioning by the police, and they kept him for half a day. He was 86 years old, and after one visit he had a heart attack and died. But we were here, and there was nothing I could do. It was also very difficult because for five years I could not work.
“I used to go to the library to read, or do exercise, because I could not do anything else until we had the right permission to stay here. Now we have been allowed to stay, and I am trying to get a qualification so that I can work for myself. I want to train as an electrician.”
Parham assumed the family would be housed in London, and was “surprised” when they were made to settle north of the border. “We knew nothing about Scotland apart from one thing — it was the place where whisky came from. But we have been here for over five years, and we have made some friends, so we would not want to go anywhere else.”
Now they have been granted leave to remain, they are relieved they can now move out of the “high flats”, the local term for the tower blocks where asylum-seekers are placed. “It was not a very nice place to live, compared to our life in Iran. I had a mezuzah on the door, and once someone tried to burn it off, but it was made of stone so they could not do it.”
For Leila, who is taking English and computer studies at a local college, the fear that surrounded their life in Iran still lingers. “Even here, I tell my children who go to school here not to say they are Jewish; we cannot say we are Jewish because there are many refugees and many of them are Muslims. I worry about it more than my husband. He tells everyone he is Jewish, but I am still nervous about it.”
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