Golriz Ghahraman On Getting Involved
Last year we had the privilege to interview Golriz Ghahraman, New Zealand’s first ever refugee MP. In light of this week's horrific events we believe her voice is an important one to hear from. Her full interview below.
Image by Todd Henry.
We left Mashhad with only a couple of relatively small bags, we couldn't sell our house or pack our things, or even say goodbye to anyone - for fear the authorities would find out we were escaping. I remember going to see my mum's family across the country and staying with them a week or two, feeling the tension as they probably knew what was happening but no one would dare talk about it. Then everyone wept at the airport. We never went back of course, because we can't - the fear of persecution remains.
Watching my parents risk absolutely everything, leave behind family, their culture and language, their professions just to escape religious and political persecution was defining act for me. It’s meant I value human rights very highly and feel an urgent need to protect them. I know that fighting for rights, not just my own, and working to strengthen the institutions that protect our democracy has to be continuing - because I've seen the world without them.
I think this is the thing people don't realise about refugees. We are not immigrants, we are not choosing to leave. No one wants to abandon their life in every way, never to return, to see their family. We are people who have to leave to escape persecution.
The thing I remember most is the incredible sense of fear about being returned to Iran once we got to Auckland airport. But equally, I remember the absolute warmth with which we were welcomed here and the beautiful, very green city of Auckland once we left the airport.
I have realised that it really is important for women and minorities (whether that's refugees, disabled persons, members of the rainbow community) to tell our stories, but more than that to take part in shaping the world around us. This is especially true in the current global climate of politics, I've realised that our rights and our interests won't necessarily be protected by majority rules democracy unless we are at the decision making table.
I've realised that my image and story will mean different things to different people. I've had to set aside my distaste for tokenism in the past few years in face of the greatest humanitarian crisis we've seen since WWII, which is emanating from my part of the world. Giving the refugee crisis a name and face has become a responsibility for those of us who have made it out. At the same time the rise of populism and the politics of division in places like the US and UK have made it urgent for minorities and women to take a seat at the decision making table.
I really think adversity is something a community, or society, should come together to solve. I wouldn't want to give advice to anyone unless I've walked a mile in their shoes, so to speak. But what I would say, is that we all have inherent dignity, deserve respect and basic human rights - including the right not to be hungry or cold, because what does the right to vote or free speech mean to those we don't afford housing or basic income? - We have these rights not because we are good or have achieved some other level of success, but because we are human.
Empathy is a huge part of what makes our society fair. We can't judge people in their hour of need, whether they're newly arrived migrants or refugees, happen to be unemployed right now or have mental health needs. Circumstances could conspire to put any of us in that position, so we need to look out for each other.
We can't rely on majority rule democracy to protect our rights or interests. We need to participate and empower each other to participate.