Borderless travel seems to be taken for granted by many, but for many others it is far from it. Behrokh writes about her limited travel options as an Iranian and her recurring experiences with racism. Many doors are not open to her.
My nationality has always played a crucial role in my life. It has acted as an obstacle in many cases, precisely because in many parts of the world there is still a discriminatory attitude towards people based on race.
I am confronted with this attitude when I am judged based on my nationality, especially when applying for a visa to enter some countries.
When I planned to start a master’s program in Germany, I applied for a German visa in Iran. It took a year and a half for me to get an appointment for the interview at the German Embassy in Tehran. I was lucky that my program was binational between France and Germany. So, I managed to get a French student visa in a shorter time. Many other students in Iran have experienced that the waiting time to get the visa to enter the US, Canada or other countries is exceedingly long, while it is much shorter for students of other nationalities.
One of the most irritating experiences I had occurred when my niece was born in July 2020. When I heard that, I was excited and planned to travel to London to visit her. I applied for a UK visa in Germany and just a week after my appointment at the embassy, my application was rejected. In the rejection letter, the official had written, “I am not convinced that you will come back to Germany.”
This may seem normal at first glance, but it is not, because I have more than enough financial sources and I presented my contract as a working student at the university. It became even stranger when the official mentioned the expiration date of my residence permit in Germany and that of my passport. Both dates exceeded at least three months the date I had provided for my return from the UK. Whenever I hear from my European friends about how easy it is for them to travel to the UK or the US, I feel that something is wrong.
Before this incident, my Iranian friend who was studying in England had to travel to Macedonia with her classmates and her professor for a study project. She was the only one in the group who did not get a visa for the trip, for exactly the same reason I did not. The official told her, “We are not sure that you will come back to England”. During that time, some refugees were entering Serbia and I suspect that they were afraid of new refugees coming to Macedonia as well. Anyone can be a potential refugee under certain circumstances, but why was she suspected the most of being a refugee among all her classmates with different nationalities?
However, this is not just about Iranians. Doors are not closed to Iranians only. I suspect that European tourists, for example, would have difficulties if they wanted to travel to Iran and had previously been to Israel.
Recently, while I was looking for international fellowships for women scientists, I came across a sentence that was repeated several times. It was ridiculous, heart-breaking, and insulting. This sentence read, “Women applicants from all countries are welcome to apply, except Iranians.” I am not sure whether you can feel the humiliation behind every single word in that sentence. In sports competitions, race, religion, and political issues are disregarded, but why cannot this be applied to border controls between countries?
I believe that the world population is not addressing racism problems properly. This is also shown by the countless cases of racism that still happen every day around the world.
We Can Be Born in Different Countries and Still Open our Doors
I have many stories like this to tell. However, I would like to go back to one last memory. I remember that my friend and I went to an organization in Freiburg, Germany, which I will not name here. My friend wanted to talk to one of the staff members about renting an apartment in the dormitory for herself and her family, which included three people. As she was trying to convince the person in charge of the organization that they could live in a small apartment, the staff member simpered and said, “Here it’s not like in your country. Here everyone should have their own room at home”. I guess that the person had no idea how houses look like in Iran.
Not the people but racist ways of thinking should be banned. In my opinion, when you meet a person for the first time, you may not be fully interested in them, but after getting to know them better, they become interesting and delightful to you. That is the magic of contact and recognition. If we all had better chances to cross borders and to be in contact with each other, we would not live so far away from each other. If only we could open the doors of our countries to each other, we would open our hearts to new people. That is just one of all the restrictions, whose dissolution could bring us closer.
*Article picture from Lalesh-Aldarwish / pexels.com