July 20, 2019
Sameera Dehani was just five years old when her parents divorced and her mother moved in with her brothers in the Iranian port city of Chabahar.
As Sameera, 34, tells it, there began a saga of abuse and torture that went on for decades as she, her two sisters, younger brother and mother were subjected to daily beatings and humiliation by their male relatives. Among the siblings, only Sameera was allowed to go to school though she was forced to quit in the fifth grade.
Two years ago, in a major blow to the family, Sameera’s 19-year-old brother Enayat Ullah, ran away from home. He has been missing since. The following year, when Sameera’s uncle tried to force her into marriage with a man she says is a drug addict and she refused, he threatened to behead her entire family.
It was then that she decided that the time had come for her and her sisters Rasheeda and Hafeeza to plan their escape.
“After the death threats I realized my resistance could earn us all death so I decided we just had to leave,” Sameera said in an interview with Arab News.
Sameera and Rasheeda began working at a local fish processing and packaging company and after four months had saved up enough money to put their plan into action.
In February last year, the three sisters left home one morning for work but instead traveled more than 1,500 miles on foot and by bus, over desert sands and dry mountains, until they reached a crossing on Iran’s border with Iraq. Here, their luck ran out as a vigilant immigration officer caught them and turned them away.
The women were forced to return to their uncle’s home where the beatings and torture only grew worse.
A few months later, they decided to try again and in June last year, the sisters got on a bus headed for Panjgur in Pakistan’s southwestern Balochistan.
At the border in Jiwani, Sameera said a man traveling with his family took Rs3,000 from the women in exchange for help crossing the border as part of his party, which included several other women. No one checked the women’s IDs and they got through, reaching Panjgur and then traveling onwards to the port city of Karachi, more than 600 miles away from home in Chabahar and the abuse of their uncles.
Today, the three women live in the safety of the Sarim Burney Trust Shelter Home in the Pakistani megacity. But their relief, they know, will be short-lived: with the Pakistani and Iranian authorities having been informed of their presence in Pakistan, the women now spend each day under a pall of fear — of imminent deportation and subsequent abuse, and even death, back home at the hands of their uncles.
“My uncle will kill us if we return,” Sameera said in an interview at the shelter. “So either we should be given complete protection by the Iranian government and helped to settle in another province if we go home, or if that is not possible, then we don’t want to go back.”
As per the law, when the women arrived at the shelter, the Trust had to file a petition with the Sindh High Court and inform it of their illegal status. In a ruling on March 18, the court ordered the Trust to reach out to the Iranian consulate and arrange to send the sisters back to Iran. In the meantime, the court said, they could stay at the shelter which is home to about a hundred other women. Sameera, Hafeeza and Rasheeda are the only illegal immigrants and foreigners there.
Sarim Burney, the chairman of the Trust, told Arab News his organization was working on the women’s repatriation but hoped Iran would give diplomatic assurances that they would be safe upon their return.
“The Iranian consulate has verified their nationality and said they will start the process of sending them back home,” Burney said. “All we want is that the girls should be provided security of life and allowed to live their own lives.”
Pakistan’s interior ministry as well as the federal investigation agency declined comment for this piece. An official of the Iranian consulate in Karachi confirmed that the embassy was in touch with the girls but declined to give details of the arrangements and dates for their return to Iran.
For the women, a nightmare awaits them in Chabahar where their uncles, they said, would most certainly punish them for having run away.
“Rasool was so cruel that he once damaged the eye of his own mother, my grandmother, while beating her,” Sameera said, referring to one of her uncles, and pulling up her sleeve to show scars on her arm.
“Most of the wounds on my body have healed but my heart still bleeds,” she said.
As her eyes filled with tears, she said she worried for her mother, left behind in Iran at the mercy of her cruel brothers.
“I would want complete protection for the girls in case of their return home,” Burney said.
The women said they would return to Iran, reluctantly, but only if their safety and security was ensured by the Iranian government.
Sameera said she would not mind marrying a Pakistani man and settling here or getting citizenship of a gulf country.
“We will go anywhere in the world where we can start a new life,” she said. “But we won’t return home once again to face torture and death in Iran.”