Socialist Worker

Iranian refugees in Calais: ‘The Basij crushed my fingers’

Issue No. 2171

Sharif’s fingers were crushed by the Basij militia (Pic:» Guy Smallman )

Sharif’s fingers were crushed by the Basij militia (Pic: » Guy Smallman)

One activist agreed to take us to a secret location near Calais university, where a group of Iranian students were hiding.

Their hideout was well-concealed from the nearby motorway, but a CRS van was prowling the area. We parked near a decrepit tower block in this poor working class area and tailed the activist through the woods to a small clearing.

Amid the tents, hidden under a green tarpaulin, we found Sharif, Ibrahim and Bahi.

They told us they fled Iran one month ago. They said that two others were away looking for food – although we learnt later that they had been arrested, along with a local activist, as they tried to break into an abandoned building.

The three we met agreed to talk to us on condition that we did not take photos or ask their full names.

Using a smattering of Farsi, Arabic and English, they explained that they were students who supported Iranian opposition leader Mir-Hossein Mousavi. They said they were fleeing the crackdown by hardliners after the recent pro-reform demonstrations.

They were Persians, they said, not from the ethnic minorities who would normally make the perilous journey into exile.

Sharif looked as if he was made of broken bones. His fingers were crooked, his body stooped and twisted.

He told us he was involved in a car accident in which a member of the Basij, Iran’s hard-line militia, was killed. Sharif and his father were arrested and he was badly beaten.


Holding out his crooked hands he mimed how his fingers were broken with mallets. The beating put him into a coma for several months.

After some negotiations, he allowed us to photograph his hands.

Ibrahim repeated that they supported the reformist opposition, and they were students looking to escape. Meanwhile, Bahi lay in his tent, enjoying our attempts at communication.

They said they were in high spirits despite the 20-day journey, and having run out of money.

The activist told us that this group were particularly vulnerable as they were new to the area.

We asked why they wanted to come to Britain.

They said that this is where the lorry brought them, and they thought they could get a hearing from British authorities.

They would be happy to seek refuge in France, but all the doors were closed.

Asked if they had any contact with their families, they showed us their prized mobile phone.

Yes, they spoke to their families, but they did not tell them the truth – that they were hungry and destitute in a foreign country.

Click here to subscribe to our daily morning email newsletter 'Breakfast in red'

Mobile users! Don't forget to add Socialist Worker to your home screen.