Over the past few months, an asylum seeker from Iran has been telling his story and facing questions from groups of 14-16 year olds at schools in Yorkshire.
Frank Stevens, 30, a former table tennis champion and geography teacher, fled Iran after being tortured and persecuted by Iran’s regime. Frank was beaten, on one occasion for three days, tortured and jailed for 19 months after attending a demonstration in Tehran. Two of Frank’s friends were killed by the regime, one of them because he drank alcohol 3 times.
Since arriving in the UK in July 2005 Frank has resumed his table tennis. He is playing for Leeds YMCA (he has been offered £15 an hour to teach table tennis but had to turn it down because he is not allowed to work), and has started volunteering with the Refugee Council Talks Team in Leeds, giving talks to groups of schoolchildren and adults. The Talks Team will give in the region of a hundred talks this year.
Frank is also chair of the International Organisation of Iranian Refugees (Leeds) and has organised several parties and film showings in Leeds, as well as providing food for destitute people.
Frank in discussing his volunteering work said, “When I visit schools it brings back happy memories of my school pupils in Iran. I want to tell my story to young people because I want to show them we are the same as each other, we are all people. I want to contribute to England, it is my country now because I live here.”
Anna Reisenberger, acting Chief Executive of the Refugee Council added “Projects like our Talks Team play a vital role in promoting better understanding and integration in our communities. Having the opportunity to meet an asylum seeker or refugee is so valuable for young people and helps to break down the stigma that has unfortunately become associated with people seeking sanctuary from persecution.
“People like Frank are in the front line of the integration work of the Refugee Council. Taking real life stories into schools takes some courage. As you can imagine teenagers don’t hold back, they ask whatever they want and sometimes our volunteers face some tough grillings. We believe the best way for young people to have those questions answered is to meet asylum seekers themselves.”