Mobin, 22, came to England in October last year after escaping the corrupt government of his native country Iran. His story is a deeply shocking one, but after having found a temporary home here in Bethnal Green he remains hopeful for the future.
Mobin talks about his traumatic experiences in a remarkably charming and laid back manner. Although he’s witnessed violence and hardship most of us will never have to go through, he exudes conviviality – and seems to have gained some of the famous cheeky East End humour by osmosis.
‘For me, the glass is always half-full,’ he says. ‘I’m lucky to be here, there were so many others I met on my journey who had been travelling for more than a year with small children.’
Last summer, after protesting against the Iranian government, who had introduced extortionate taxes on gas and oil, Mobin found his life in danger.
He was teaching a class when he heard shouting voices coming from outside. ‘I cancelled the class as soon as I heard the noises, then I rushed to find out what was going on.’
Government soldiers retaliating against the protesting teachers opened fire on the crowd that assembled outside his school, leading to the deaths of several of Mobin’s colleagues. Mobin himself was hit by shrapnel and now, over six months later still cannot feel part of his hand.
‘In my country, the government ignores basic human rights,’ says Mobin. ‘Over here, if someone says they don’t like Boris Johnson – that’s perfectly OK. If you criticize the Iranian government, then you’re dead. That’s it.’
He continues: ‘I saw many of my friends get killed. The government doesn’t care about its people, they would tie people up and watch them drown in the water.’
While Mobin escaped with his life that day, he discovered that his family’s home had been raided by government officials in order to find him. For his own good, he stayed with another relative. His family pleaded with him to leave Iran in order to save his life and ‘sold everything’ to fund his journey.
‘When [people from the Government] broke into my family’s house, that’s when I knew I couldn’t stay there. I do worry about them, because they have nothing now. It does occupy your mind.’
A three month journey across Europe ensued, the hardest chapter being the week that Mobin spent in a tightly-packed yacht with sixty other refugees, as they travelled from Turkey to Italy.
‘That was the worst part. We had a 20cm by 20cm square that we had to stick to so other boats did not spot us. There was no food and no water, people were sick and some drowned on the way. After two days there is nothing else to throw up.’
During this leg Mobin suffered stress injuries; tearing muscles in his groin and hamstring from the contorted angles his body had to maintain for hours on end across the water.
Mobin is one of thousands of Iranian citizens seeking refuge from a corrupt government. ‘I met people on the way over here who had been travelling for one or two years. These people have families – small children.’
‘All their stories and reasons for leaving Iran will be very similar to mine. Three months is a short time for a journey from Iran to England, so I’m one of the luckier ones.’
One of the groups he met was the Iranian family who drowned in the Channel in October 2020 to national outrage directed at the Home Office for not doing their bit during a global crisis.
‘I saw them the day before they drowned. They told me in Calais that hopefully they would be in England the next day. When I woke up after that, I saw the news.’
It is never a good time to be uprooted from one’s home, but the fact that it has happened during Covid-19 means Mobin is not receiving treatment for the injuries he received on his gruelling journey here.
Mobin needed medical attention when he arrived in October, but has been waiting in vain until now. Fortunately, after months of radio silence he has just received confirmation of a video consultation with a local doctor.
‘Everything is obviously taking a lot longer than normal. Luckily I’ve just been told I have this online call next week. That’s where most of my happiness comes from right now.’
After a week-long stint in a detention centre upon his arrival to England, he was provided lodgings at a hotel in Bethnal Green where he has been ever since. Soon after, he and several other Iranian refugees found Neighbourhood Bites, a local food bank operating at St. John’s Church at the end of Roman Road.
Neighbourhood Bites is run by a group of over ninety dedicated volunteers and has been operating since 2018. Popular amongst the community for bringing in fresh fruit and vegetables and providing companionship for its guests, the organisation looks set to becoming a registered charity later this year.
As one of many Iranians who had no other recourse than to abandon their lives in their native country, Mobin now faces another challenge – obtaining UK citizenship.
‘I’ve been waiting several months and have been told very little. I know there are a series of interviews and a lot of details I’m going to have to give. But that’s okay, I understand what the Home Office has to do.’
‘I’ve got shoes so I can kick a football and I have a guitar that I play. So I’m happy. I don’t need anything else.’ Undeterred by his untreated injuries, Mobin talks excitedly about his aim to become a professional footballer. ‘Well, a semi-professional footballer at least.’
It’s when Mobin talks with such hope and optimism that you are reminded of how young he still is, how much he has gone through at such a young age and how, like all young people, he bustles with plans and dreams for the future.
Food banks like Neighbourhood Bites now play a crucial role in Mobin’s life, as they give the refugees extra clothes, food and support to top up basic provisions from the Home Office. On top of getting accommodation and basic food, Mobin receives from the Government, about one pound a day.
‘They are good people here [at Neighbourhood Bites]’ says Mobin. ‘We can’t work at the moment for obvious reasons so for people with families and children to feed, these places are so important.’
‘I have met friends here, they really look after us.’
Although Mobin’s immediate future is uncertain – with no way of knowing how long his case will take to be processed – he retains a strong depth of spirit and a rigidly positive attitude that will continue to serve him well as he faces the challenges that starting a new life from scratch in the UK represent.
‘It could be another six months that I’m waiting to be approved by the Home Office, but I’m here – I’m alive. Why shouldn’t I be grateful? All I really want is to make enough money to help my family out, because they are the reason I managed to get here in the first place.’
To find out how to help or donate to Neighbourhood Bites, visit their instagram – @tuesday_night_bites – or visit the Neighbourhood Bites website.
If you liked this story you may like to read about Karen, victim of the Windrush Generation scandal
Can you support us?
As a not-for-profit media organisation using journalism to strengthen communities, we have not put our digital content behind a paywall or membership scheme as we think the benefits of an independent, local publication should be available to everyone living in our area.
We are powered by members. Hundreds of members have already joined. Become a member today from as little as £3 to support impact journalism and the local community.