Letters from Iran (3)

By Ehsan Omid

We were several immigrants from Afghanistan working at a large Iranian construction company that employed over 40 people, which also included Iranian workers. Most of the Iranian workers had moved from other provinces to Tehran for work. They saw the migrant workers as competitors. Physical and verbal harassment were ubiquitous. But there was not much we could do. Confronting them had consequences for which no one was ready.

There were 12 of us living in a small dark room at the construction site. The Iranian workers had a room of their own. The youngest of us was a teenage boy, who usually did the chores. And among the Iranians, a man known by his last name, Bagheri, had a reputation for being a bully. One rainy day, after we had returned from work to that cramped space, the young boy went to wash the dishes. A few minutes passed and as we gathered for a round of tea, he returned. His face was bruised and clutching his throat, he recounted how Baqeri had beaten him and had thrown the dishes away. Bagheri had ordered the boy to leave the faucet because he wanted to wash his face. The boy had begun clearing his dishes right away as the man had flown into a rage, beating the boy until he came running back to the room. 

Such incidents had happened before too but we were too afraid to speak up. That day too we did not intervene and remained silent, sufficing to offer words of comfort and sympathy. But that was not all. Bagheri stormed into the room, his eyes red as blood and his face contorted in anger. “You Afghans have so much nerve now to kick my teapot?” rhetorically he asked. He grabbed my arm tightly with one hand and raised his other hand to hit me. As I tried to defend myself, others came into the room to support him. It got really crowded there and I don’t know what happened afterwards. Next I remember Bagheri lying on the ground bleeding. There was a lot of noise. An Afghan worker was also injured in addition to the young boy beaten earlier. Bagheri got up and went to wash his hands and face.

That was not the end. Shortly after, the police stormed into our room and started beating us. When they got to me, they beat me so badly that my eyes turned black and my nose started bleeding. Then the police tied our hands behind our backs and dragged us to the police station without even letting us change into proper clothing. At the station, more assault and physical violence awaited us. Bagheri watched the scene, a cruel smile spreading across his face.

No question was asked. Our identity as Afghans was enough to warrant any ill treatment. We spent the night in police custody. The cell was cold and the fear made it feel even colder. No one talked. A chilling feeling of indignation rushed through my nerves. This had happened to us for years and I was sure it would continue to happen. 

The next morning, the police took us out and made us stand in line. Only then did they ask about what had happened the night before. The interrogator treated us more decently than those who had taken us the day before. Questioning had just begun when the foreman, another laborer who organized others, arrived. He looked at us and went into the police office. I do not know what happened in the room but after a few minutes, a soldier came and removed the handcuffs to let us go. We were told that a lawyer would proceed with the case and summon us when necessary.

The foreman drove the 12 of the best workers back to the workplace in two cars. When we arrived, we were told that Bagheri and his 22 workers had been fired due to their misconduct, and the company would cover the expense related to his head injury. Although he left the construction site, Bagheri kept threatening to kill us. For the first month, we did not leave the work station at all. Since then, there is an unease to life in Iran, as if the constant misbehavior, deportation, and police brutality were not enough that they had to add a death threat to the list of our worries. That is how costly making a living has become for those of us who had to escape poverty and persecution in our own country.

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