Ali Mortezaie was born in Tehran, Iran in 1972. He spent much of his youth as part of a youth activist group that spoke out against Iran’s non-democratic government, supporting the freedom of speech and movement.
At the end of 2002 issues within the government began to get out of control and Ali left Iran and fled to Turkey. In Turkey he requested refugee status from the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), but after four months he was deported back to Iran. Upon his return, Iranian government officials asked him why he fled to Turkey and requested refugee status. Fearing execution, Ali had to lie for his own protection and was sentenced to prison where he spent a year in jail.
In 2005, Ali’s family gave up some of their property so he could get out of jail. Soon after, Ali and his friend left Iran and paid a guide to help them navigate through the mountains in Turkey. Turkish police stopped Ali and his friend at the border and tried to deport them back to Iran but they explained that they could not return and were waiting for an interview with UNHCR. They stayed in a deportation camp on the Turkish border for nine months. “Every day they gave us half of a sandwich with salami and cheese.” Desperate, Ali went on a hunger strike for fourteen days until UNHCR came and accepted his case.
In 2008 the United States accepted Ali’s petition to come as a refugee and he got married. His wife however, was not approved through UNCHR. Ali’s case was suspended until his wife was approved so that they both could come together. Because it took so long, over a year, their case was closed by US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and UNCHR transferred their case to Canada. They waited 5 months but during this time his wife’s brother was diagnosed with thyroid cancer and UNHCR decided to send him to the United States for medical treatment.
Ali wanted to support his wife and her brother and contacted the UNCHR lawyer to ask to transfer their case back to the United States. UNCHR accepted his wife in order to care for her brother, but Ali was not allowed to come with her because his case had already expired. Ali was told by UNCHR that he would be able to meet his family in the US within 6 months.
Having struggled for so long to escape the harsh rule of the Iranian government, Ali finally arrived in the US two years after his wife in January 2012.
“When I arrived at TF Green airport the Customs officer said ‘Welcome to your home’. This was the first contact for me with Americans and I saw their hospitality. I was ready to cry.”
Life in the United States was not an easy adjustment at first. Ali went through many personal issues with his family and was not able to communicate with his family back in Iran for fear of their safety. Regardless of some difficulties in the beginning, Ali has become an active community member in Rhode Island. He enjoys having many freedoms that he did not have in Iran.
Ali began an urban garden and enjoys giving vegetables he has grown to others. He also gives advice to his neighbors about planting their own garden. Currently he is taking classes at Dorcas Place Adult and Family Learning Center for IT Programming to receive his A+ Certification. He is also enrolled in a workforce training class for customer service.
“Education is so important for all people when they come to the United States so they can communicate with others and be certified to find a better job.”
After everything that he has gone through, Ali still maintains a positive attitude. Though he misses his family and home every day, he has accepted his new life here and enjoys being in Rhode Island. Ali loves the fall season for the colorful trees and also enjoys fishing. He dreams of opening his own business one day to develop computer program software.
Compiled and written by Lauren Pedulla & Adebanke Otunba-Payne