A talented 18-year-old art student and his family are being threatened with deportation to Iran where, protestors argue, they will face torture and imprisonment.
They say a picture tells a thousand stories. Behind the publicly acclaimed beauty of 18-year-old Behnam’s paintings lies private turbulence and instability, based on his recognition of an uncertain future. Perhaps the emotional extremities incited by the threat of deportation have contributed to this hauntingly beautiful artwork, but perhaps such pressure and fear could also stifle his budding creative talents. Either way, this youngster, who has been offered a place at Central St. Martin’s, a prestigious and well-respected art college in London, must deal with the constant threat of upheaval.
Behnam and his family arrived in the UK in 2003, following his father’s employment with a shipping company. The two children enrolled in the Quintin Kynaston school in Swiss Cottage and integrated well into the school community. The then school refugee and asylum-seeker coordinator, Pauline Levis, described Behnam as ‘a delightful, popular young man, [and] an exceptionally talented artist, much of whose work reflects his open-minded approach to matters such as politics and religion.’
Yet this new life and the family’s happiness faced an immediate challenge in April 2005, when government officials in Iran seized a photocopier and dissenting literature from the family’s flat. Behnam and his mother were accused of collaborating with the Mujahadin, an outlawed opposition organisation and were tried and sentenced in absentia to five- and seven-years in jail and warned they faced seventy and one hundred lashings respectively. Behnam alleges that whilst he was aware that Mujahadin sympathisers were staying in the family’s Iranian flat, he was ignorant of the fact that they were printing and producing anti-government propaganda.
The family’s situation worsened when, a few days later, Behnam’s father returned to Iran to start a new job. Behnam, his brother and his mother agreed to remain in England in order that the youngsters could continue with their studies. Upon arrival at Tehran airport, their father was arrested and has not been heard from since. The family’s application for asylum in the UK was subsequently rejected, leaving Behnam and his mother in a particularly precarious position. Despite the family’s legal representatives producing ‘authenticated documents from the Iranian court’, which apparently corroborated the family’s version of events and legitimised their fears about being deported, the family’s claim again failed on appeal. A further appeal was lodged with the Immigration Appeal Tribunal, but according to Pauline Levis, ‘it is not yet known whether this appeal will even be heard’.
Quintin Kynaston has remained adamant that Behnam and his brother deserve to remain in London and complete their education. It has actively protested against the threat of deportation and has launched an online petition to raise public awareness of the case. The overwhelming support of the students, parents and teachers was commended in a school newsletter: ‘There has been a fantastic response to the petition started recently and the family really appreciate the support.’ A letter-writing campaign and an exhibition of Behnam’s artwork has also promoted the family’s struggle.