AS Refugee Week comes to an end, ALIMA NADEEM speaks to one woman who had to flee her home country after converting from Islam to Christianity.

Farah is a former refugee who fought displacement in Iran due to her conversion from Islam to Christianity.

The Iranian born 34-year-old had Christian neighbours, who she went to church with and this sparked her story of conversion.

She fell in love with the way they worshipped and wanted to move away from Islam, as she felt there was a lot less pressure in Christianity.

Christians are looked down on in Iran and stripped of many rights, as Iran is a dominantly Islamic country and anyone diverting from this, is cut off from society and can even be executed.

Now, Farah, who lives in Blackburn is a successful immigration solicitor and is partnering up to run a law firm branch in Darwen.

Farah said: “I was born in Tehran to a very nice family and we were financially stable with my dad owning a clothing factory, as a designer.

“So, we had no financial needs to emigrate.

“I had a neighbour, who was not Muslim, and I used to play with them but other Muslim neighbours did not like this because, in my country, non-Muslims are considered dirty.”

News of her conversion leaked and Farah was expelled from school, rendering her incapable of studying anywhere else and liable for execution.

This forced the family to leave their home in Tehran and flee in fear.

After arriving in England at 16, Farah began attending the United Reformed Church Darwen and studying English and her GCSEs.

She said: “John East and Margaret at Darwen Asylum & Refugee Enterprise (DARE) became my mum and dad and came to my parent’s evenings and were really supportive.

“John was with me through my worst and best times, people who didn’t even know me were helping me.”

Farah was displaced in Iran, like many other refugees and asylum seekers who are forced to leave due to violence and conflict.

But, the solicitor wishes to challenge the stereotypes that suggest all refugees are poor and come to England for just financial gains.

She said: “Being classed as an asylum seeker makes people think you are poor and that really bothered me because I was unfairly judged, although there is no shame in being less financially advantaged in this world.

“But even now the Home Office blames the majority of asylum seekers for migrating because of financial motives.

“My aim as a solicitor is to help people and, when I take immigration cases, I can feel their pain.

“I remember the day the Home Office rejected me, I felt devastated and feared for my life in the event of deportation."

Farah understands that some refugees may take advantage of life in the UK, but she also knows many who have worked hard to support themselves.

She said: “Although there are exceptions to this, I have seen that majority of asylum seekers who are granted refugee status, pursue their education and establish successful business which creates more job opportunities for the nation therefore they are not a burden on the government.

“At the same time, I see some children born in England who take education for granted.

“Another thing people need educating on is that the money refugees receive is not directly from the government, but from an international fund pot allocated for refugees or various charities and trusts."

Farah hopes that educating people during Refugee Week will help them understand the greater issues they go through.

But, many people who attend events on refugees are those who are interested and not those that are critical of them.

She said: “You do not see those who need to understand at these events, but Refugee Week is important to understand who refugees and asylums seekers are and what they go through to get a better life.

“What if you were in their shoes? Would you not want to escape if you went through all of that?”

During the coronavirus pandemic, many people in the country have felt scared and alone, but this is just everyday life for refugees and asylum seekers when they were in their home countries.

The UN Refugee Agency reported 2017 as the highest forced displacement in decades.

The Refugee Council reported that at the end of March 2020 there were 35,099 refugee applications made in the UK.

There were there were 895 people in detention in an immigration removal centre at the end March 2020, among them were 439 people seeking asylum.

In the year ending March 2020, the top five nationalities of people seeking asylum were Iran, Albania, Iraq, Pakistan and Eritrea.

These figures show that the road to a safer life is not easy and they must overcome many challenges before settling anywhere in the UK.

Blackburn with Darwen is proud to host many refugee families, with organisations such as DARE and ARC helping them integrate into society.