Azadi Square, one of Tehran's key landmarks, is where the police arrest Afghans, often without asking for documents.

Letters from Iran (1)

By Ehsan Omid

In the early morning, I took a taxi from my neighborhood to Tehran’s Azadi Square. From there, I wanted to take the metro to arrive earlier to my work. The Azadi Square is where the Iranian police often arrest refugees from Afghanistan. They are taken to Varamin camp [a refugee camp] in Lashkarabad, later deporting them back to Afghanistan. Before leaving my house, I was advised to take a Snapp Cab instead of the regular taxi or the metro. ButI ignored the advice, thinking that I would be safe with legal documents.

However, I was wrong. The minute I got out of the cab, a police officer in civilian outfit grabbed me by the elbow and instructed me to get onto the bus nearby. I didn’t even have the chance to show my documents. When I later tried to show my legal documents, I was told to stay quiet or I would be beaten up. A lump formed in my throat, I took a deep breath to avoid breaking down. My mind raced with thoughts of my unfinished work and my upcoming appointment with my employer. I was lost in my thoughts as the policeman dragged me to the bus gate.

I was ordered to turn off my mobile phone and not attempt to contact anyone. There were other Afghans too, just as helpless. The bus was quiet. Worry was ubiquitous. No one spoke a word. Windows had dark curtains. The bus filled up in half an hour with refugees, migrants, students, and tourists. Their foreign appearance was enough to be arrested.

The bus ride to the Varamin Camp was filled with physical assault and verbal insults by the police–something most people on the bus had experienced before. Detention and deportation was not new to me. Just two months ago, the Iranian police had deported one of my brothers, who had a headcount slip, a registered refugee document from the government. 

As the bus slowly moved toward the camp, I worried about what would happen if the camp authorities ignored my legal documents and deported me back to Afghanistan. What would happen to my unfinished work? What about my promise to my employer to complete the job today? I was unable to call him to explain my situation, and if he called my phone, it would be turned off, which could lead to a misunderstanding.

The ride to the camp took two hours. All I could think of in those two hours was what if I would be sent back to Afghanistan. What about my unfinished work? What would happen to my family? When we arrived at the Camp, there was even a larger crowd of Afghans awaiting an arbitrary decision on their fate. In essence, the camp authorities could decide if they wanted to honor the government-issued documents.

We were told that anyone with legal documents, including a headcount slip, would be released–that is what my brother had but was still deported. I could go back to my work, I could stay in Iran. But the indignity we had to endure, no one could be accountable for. 

I left the camp at around four o’clock in the afternoon. Tired and with a severe headache, I got a taxi to the nearest metro station. As the taxi sped, a soft music played in the background, a soft breeze blew at my face. But the question kept lingering in my mind: what could get us out of the humiliation and indignity? We had documents to legally stay and work in Iran, but that was not enough. What else?

Ehsan Omid is a migrant worker from Afghanistan in Iran. This letter is edited for length and clarity.