Since the in-custody death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old woman who was detained by morality police on 13 September for allegedly wearing her hijab, or headscarf, “improperly”, the protests in Iran have spread to 160 cities in all 31 provinces and are seen as one of the most serious challenges to the Islamic Republic since the 1979 revolution. As latest reported by the international press, at least 475 protesters have been killed by security forces, and 18,240 others have been detained, according to the Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA). It has also reported the deaths of 61 security personnel. Iran’s Supreme National Security Council has said that more than 200 people have been killed, including members of the security forces.
As part of the refugee community we have the privilege to be walking with, Road of Hope (ROH) took a short interview with Leila R., a 45 years old political activist, who left Iran in 2018 facing threats from the structures of the current Iranian dictatorship and found a “place to be herself” in the Netherlands.
ROH – What was the most challenging thing for you when you first arrived in Europe?
Leila – Everything was strange for me especially the language in NL, I was shy because I didn’t understand the people.
ROH – Iran has been rocked by the biggest protests in years following the death of Mahsa Amini on 16 September. Demonstrators across the country – many of whom are students or even schoolchildren – are refusing to back down. What do they want and why are they willing to risk everything to get it? Do you believe in change any time soon?
Leila – They want freedom. Freedom of speech, freedom of choice, freedom of belief and actually normal life such a 21-century citizen.
I believe that this time is totally different from the last occurrences and I hope that we get to our goal as soon as possible because Iranian people say this time, “freedom or death”.
ROH – How do you feel about your life at the moment? What do you hope to achieve next?
Leila – Nowadays, my life is complicated. I have to handle my new life here in The Netherlands and also my life in Iran, at the same time. Iranians have no internet during the day, mostly I stay awake until 3 am or 4 am just to talk with my daughter. There is a long story about our problems but, briefly, let’s say that I have two lives, one in NL and the other in Iran. And it has been really difficult.
ROH – How did you learn about the Road of Hope Foundation and how this community is contributing to your adaptation in this new context?
Leila – In 2020 we have gotten a flat in Amsterdam, after repairing the house, I expected to have my husband and daughter in NL but the IND didn’t give the visa to my daughter, so got extremely depressed and via my psychologist, I got in touch with Road Of Hope. I went with her to a cooking workshop that Road of Hope organized. I was so happy to be there. As a newcomer in Amsterdam, being familiar with Patricia and the Road of Hope was great. After that, I feel at home in Amsterdam because I know that these kind and generous people are here in the same city that I am.
This summer I was helping Road of Hope with a great project with refugee women every Wednesday. I was so happy with that project. I was a member of the team and that was a great experience for everyone, the team and also the participants. I will never forget those days. Recently, I’m participating in another project with Road of Hope, the Ondernemerschap project. It has been amazing.
ROH – Which positive message would you give to people who want to develop themselves or their business in a new country?
Leila – I think that this person must be familiar with the culture of inhabitants and multicultural issues, but the support of newcomers is really helpful for them to progress themselves. They must start, just a little step and keeping the goal or a perspective can bring us to success. We have a big struggle with all of the new things in our new life in a new country so we must be brave and keep going.
ROH – Which changes do you think are still necessary for society, to help refugees and allow them to play a more active role in their communities?
Leila – For a newcomer to open a new business, it’s really important to have clients. I wish the new business could be supported by the whole of society. Every refugee needs to be encouraged to learn language and culture at the same time, but people shall be aware that sometimes we can be refused just for being scared to introduce ourselves.
Leila is one of the ten participants in the Ondernemerschap Project which aims to provide knowledge and support to entrepreneurial newcomers.