A group of Iranian refugees in Gothenburg, Sweden, is currently on hunger strike. This group, who calls themselves “Hear Our Voice”, is protesting the rejection of their applications by the Swedish government while trying to raise awareness to their largely unknown living situation.
“Hear Our Voice” is a group of 61 refugees of whom, 12 of them (2 women and 12 men) are on hunger strike. The rest of the group, 47 people, which includes some families and children are among them and are joining the protest every day.
They are permitted to protest one month by the police. Although they have asked for two tents, a private bathroom and access to electricity, none of their needs have been provided by the government. They just received one threadbare tent which they had to fix for themselves. This tent so far has been used by the ones who are on hunger strike. Their health has deteriorated and they are increasingly at risk. Even the generator used for heating in the tent is not enough to warm them up. The refugees have provided themselves with an additional tarp in order to protect those who come during the day from the rain and cold weather.
Shapour Karimi Bakhtiari, one of the refugees involved has listed their three grievances:
1. Solidarity with Iranian citizens who in the last 40 years have been through so many political, social and economic hardships as well as solidarity with political activists in Iran who are in prison and under pressure and torture of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
2. Solidarity with Iranian refugees all over the world who had to leave their country because of the bad political-social-economic situation and those who have experienced lack of safety and security when looking for new life in other countries, but have remained unaccepted and in even worse situations in refugee camps for years.
3. Review the Iranian refugees applications in Sweden and find out the answer to why they have been rejected by this government.
With all the rejection and neglect of the Swedish government “Hear Our Voice” has found no other option but to put their lives on the line by going on hunger strike in order to bring Swedish and international attention to the situation. Some of the people on hunger strike have serious health problems but with no more hope for any improvement in conditions, they have chosen not to eat. However, unfortunately so far no Swedish governmental officials or media have given any attention to this protest or the refugees’ condition.
Among those involved there are political activists, Christian converts and Transsexuals. None of them are safe in Iran and they could face harsh penalties ranging from years of staying in prison to execution. As in Sharia (Islamic) law, conversion to any other religion is punishable by death. “Hear Our Voice” believes that the Swedish government is too strict with Iranian cases and they reject all their files out of bias.
Narges Jalali, one of the refugees who is also on hunger strike, stated her situation and the reason that her application was rejected by the migration office in Sweden: “I came to Sweden four years ago because of my Mother’s health situation. By then, her condition was terrible, half of her body was paralyzed and she needed help 24 hours each day. Her doctor said she would not live for more than a few months. I came to help my mother and that was for sure more important to me than my own condition. I didn’t have the time to declare myself to the Swedish government until nine weeks after my arrival. Thank god my mother stayed alive for two years by all the care and love that I gave her and the doctor was also so surprised. He gave me a letter that mentioned it’s mandatory for me to stay and take care of my mother 24 hours each day. I also attached this letter to my documents. However, the migration office did not find this reasonable enough and they rejected my application because I didn’t declare myself immediately after my arrival in Sweden.”
Narges has converted to Christianity and she is also a political activist in issues related to women’s rights in Iran. For these reasons returning back to Iran is not an option as she would certainly face the death penalty. After nearly a week of protest and hunger strike these people are still seeking international attention and protection. They want their voices to be heard.