BBC: An Iranian ex-policeman threatened with deportation to Rwanda from the UK under a controversial plan has spoken of his relief after his ticket was cancelled.
The former commander had faced being flown to the African nation on Tuesday. He had said he feared being found and killed by Iranian agents there.
The man had previously given testimony in the UK to an investigation into alleged Iranian atrocities in 2019.
A handful of asylum seekers are still due to be deported on Tuesday’s flight.
“I have mixed feelings. I cannot be happy,” the former commander said on Monday, in a statement issued by UK-based Iranian human rights lawyer Shadi Sadr.
“My whole heart is with all the refugees who will be forced to take the flight to [the Rwandan capital] Kigali and seek asylum from the government of Rwanda and according to Rwandan laws.”
Despite the cancellation, he remains at risk of being deported to Rwanda.
“I am also still very stressed about what will happen next,” he said.
The former commander has been held at a detention centre near Gatwick Airport after arriving in the UK from Turkey in May.
Under the new scheme, some asylum seekers’ applications will be processed in Rwanda, where they will be given accommodation and help. If successful, they will be able to remain in Rwanda with up to five years’ access to education and support.
However, the plan has been criticised by politicians and charities, who have raised concerns about the African nation’s human rights record.
The former commander, who is not being named in order to protect his identity, was sentenced by an Iranian military court to almost five years in jail and a demotion for refusing to shoot protesters during anti-government demonstrations in Iran in 2019 triggered by a sharp rise in petrol prices. He was in charge of 60 police officers at the time.
Amnesty International documented the cases of 304 men, women and children it said were killed by security forces over five days – most from gunshot wounds. Reuters said at least 1,500 were killed in less than two weeks. The Iranian authorities dismissed both figures.
When he was out on bail pending an appeal, the former commander escaped to Turkey, where in November 2021 he gave testimony via Skype to the Aban Tribunal, organised by three human rights groups in London.
He said he lived in hiding in Turkey for 14 months before arriving in the UK. Although his face was covered when he gave evidence, he said Iran’s security forces managed to identify him and persecuted his family. His father and his child were interrogated to find out his whereabouts.
“My family in Iran paid a heavy price and this [deportation] decision means all they went through was in vain,” he told BBC Persian by telephone from Brook House detention centre last week.
“They put pressure on my family so that I return and they can capture me.”
He arrived in the UK on a boat on 14 May and was immediately detained.
The former commander said he feared for his life if he is deported to Rwanda, saying: “Iran’s Revolutionary Guards operate in Africa”.
The Islamic Revolution Guard Corps (IRGC) is Iran’s most powerful military force and runs a shadowy overseas operations arm called the Quds Force.
The former commander said he was recently given malaria pills in preparation for his scheduled trip, but he refused to take them.
“You can only send my dead body to Rwanda,” he said he had told officers at Brook House.
“Why Rwanda? I’d rather be sent to Iran,” he said. “At least, I know the consequences. I can’t live with uncertainty and in fear anymore.”
UK Home Secretary Priti Patel has defended the deportation programme, saying the partnership with Rwanda is “a key part of our strategy to overhaul the broken asylum system and break the evil people-smugglers’ business model”.
A Home Office spokesperson told BBC Persian that “in Rwanda, [deportees] will be given the opportunity to rebuild their lives”.