“I’ve been living in Finland now almost 4 years. I moved here in 2013 with my family. I have a wife and two kids, a girl and a boy. My daughter is 18 years old and my son is 16 years old.
My parents are from Iran. I was born in Saudi Arabia but lived most of my life in Yemen with them and my own family. I’ve never been to Iran. For many reasons. One reason is that we’re Bahá’ís and Bahá’ís are persecuted in Iran. That’s why we could never go there.
In 2008 we were all living together in Yemen and then the Arab spring started. They came for my father and imprisoned him for being from Iran and being Baha’i, in other words non-Muslim.
Three days after they had taken my father they came to our house and they searched it completely, turned it over, because we were staying in the Bahá’í centre, we were the caretakers. They said to me, “you are on the list, we will arrest you”. But no one came back for me and they said, “we have your father, it’s enough”, which was a bit funny. I was supposed to be arrested also for being a Baha’i.
They kept him in prison for about four months and the Iranian embassy was trying hard to get him extradited to Iran. The Yemeni government refused to extradite him and he was released from jail without being charged with any crime.
After my father was released he and my mother fled Yemen with the help of the Norwegian government, the influence of the international Baha’i community and the United Nations. And that was that, my father and mother live in Norway nowadays and they have Norwegian citizenship.
The reason I didn’t leave Yemen with my parents was because I had just opened a new clinic and had really invested a lot of money in it. I hoped that things would become better. But in 2011 things became worse. There was an attempt on the president’s life and then things really escalated. So as they say, ‘that was the final straw’ and we had to leave. Our kids were small at that moment and I just talked to them and explained the whole situation.
We tried to escape with the help of the United Nations, but the UN in Yemen doesn’t have much authority to do anything. If your life is threatened we’ll take you overnight, they said, but that was it.
Calling the Iranian embassy was out of the question because we knew they would advise us to go back to Iran, but as Bahá’ís who knows what would have happened to us there. So I consulted some of my friends and they advised us to travel to Turkey because that’s a country Iranians can go without a visa. That’s how we ended up in Turkey. We were registered as refugees with the UNHCR.
I think it was August 2012 when we got the decision that we were going to be settled in Finland. I had a friend in the UN because I used to sometimes help them with translation from English to Arabic or Arabic to English, and he said “I know your situation, I know where your parents live, let me find out where you are going”.
So he just picked up the phone and called his friend at the UNHCR. They told him, “he’s going to Finland.” “Are you sure? Are you 100% sure?” my friend asked. Then he turned to me and asked, “do you have anyone there?” I said “no one.” Then 8 months later we got the decision about where we would be sent in Finland. A lady called us and said, “you guys have been settled in Rovaniemi.” We were like “Rosa- what?” It took us a while to find out where Rovaniemi was and how to spell it.
As soon as we entered Finland we came straight to Rovaniemi. It was April and there was a little snow, but it was an interesting place. The social office had arranged a house for us and basic living things, which you need in a house. Of course then the house was a bit small so we changed to a bigger house later. We started living our life with the support of the social office.
We don’t regret coming to Finland, not at all. Of course it was difficult not to have a family here, not to know anyone here, but we are happy. As a Baha’i in the Baha’i community, it’s easier. We have this small Baha’i community here, we felt a bit more at home. Being among family members.
I was put in this Rovalan Setlementti [adult high school] in the beginning and I felt really bored and I started bugging my teachers to help me. I don’t know if you’ve heard of it, it’s a kind of organisation for teaching different things, especially for foreigners. They teach language there. During this process I came to know a doctor, a skin doctor whose mother is a Finn and whose father is from Austria. When I spoke to him and told him about my profession he helped me to get work experience. I went to Lapin keskussairaala, the main hospital here, and started not working but trying to learn Finnish dental vocabulary, which was a bit strange in the beginning. I spent about 6 months there and I picked up a lot of Finnish.
There is also something called MoniNet [Multicultural Center] in Rovaniemi and they helped to find me something like a Finnish buddy. I talked with him in Finnish and he helped our family integrate in Finnish society. It’s something they do for integration purposes but I told them I wanted to have it for language. So this guy helped me a lot in the beginning and thanks to that I could do a language test within one and half years of arriving in Finland. And I got 3, level 3. The best.
I’m a dentist by profession. I studied in India but unfortunately here I am unemployed. That’s one of the negative points here in Finland, you don’t get to go to work. Finding work is easy, the thing is getting a permit to go to work is really difficult because I have to give 10 theory exams, dental exams, in Finnish. They want academic Finnish and academic Finnish is really tough. But I am getting there, out of these 10 exams I have now passed 3 now. Baby steps, as they call it.
I consider myself and my family world citizens because we believe that the whole world is one country and mankind its citizen. My home is wherever I feel safe and my family feels safe. I feel right now Finland is our home. I lived a long time in Yemen, about 33 years and about 9 years in Saudi Arabia, which I don’t remember much of because I was young. And then 10 years in India studying dentistry. Yemen well, I can’t say I had a good life there but I had a normal life. Of course there’s no security there at all. It’s a tribal system of living, but in a way – maybe because I spoke the language – I felt comfortable there but security-wise not really. Here I feel more secure.
I always tell my other friends who are here, I know a few Iranians and Arabs, that you can always complain, but it’s up to you how you want to live with the society you’re in. Because they always grumble. You can easily try to adapt and live comfortably in a new society or you can just grumble and keep complaining, it’s all up to you. The most difficult part was for my daughter to adapt. She was a teenager and she wanted to get friends and for her Finns didn’t become friends that easily. So she had a tough time in the beginning. She’s got a few best friends now and she’s quite happy. Nowadays I’d only think of moving away from Rovaniemi for our kids’ sake.”
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This interview was recorded in 2017 in Rovaniemi by Peter Seenan. If you’d like to be involved in this project please visit our contact page and submit the form.