Perspective: Seeking Refuge, Respect and Hip-Hop
Liverpool-based rapper Farhood fled his home country Iran after facing persecution as a result of his political activism. Ahead of this year’s Refugee Week UK and his appearance at M.I.A’s Meltdown, Farhood shares his story of imprisonment, poetry and hope…
I am a poet and an MC from Iran. I arrived in the UK in 2011 and I’m currently based in Liverpool. I am an artist and a refugee.
My story is not unique. It is sadly similar to thousands of stories of displaced people across the world. But it does illustrate how the system in the UK can make life incredibly difficult for those fleeing persecution and seeking refuge. I was an adolescent when I arrived here, left stranded in Liverpool with no resources and no single person who could offer me support. Upon arrival I was detained in prison for four months, because I had no papers or any regular documentation.
Whilst in prison all I could do was to go over my journey in my head. So much had happened and there was so much to think about with the troubles in Iran. But there was no one to talk to about my story. The only way to keep myself sane was through writing poetry, something which I took pleasure in as a kid back home.
My poetry reminded me of my love for hip-hop in Iran, hanging out in parks and shisha bars with my friends trying to impress with new rhymes. Just before I left Iran, the country had gone through an election and the man who won – Mahmoud Ahmadinejad – wanted Iran to be more isolationist and conservative. With supporters, he violently silenced the protests called by the losing candidate Mir-Hossein Mousavi, who wanted to bring in reforms. Hip-hop and rap and all those who performed it were seen as enemies of the government and endured persecution.
Since I’ve arrived, the government in the UK have just seen me as another illegal immigrant coming over here to sponge off the system. My original application for asylum was unsuccessful and I faced another four years of being a stateless person, not able to work or study. The only exit out of my situation I could see was to convert to another religion and re-apply for asylum.
I continued to write the whole time. I thought about writing lyrics in a more serious way to tell people of my experiences. After a while in Liverpool I met Kepla, a local producer who introduced me to his friend Ling, and the three of us started working on music together. After two years of playing small gigs and sharing music – from grime and club to Iranian hip-hop and classical music – last year we released the Tike Tike EP, on which my lyrics bring forward many political and cultural issues, from global asylum to women’s rights, to trying to help people my age in Iran to know and fight for their rights.
"Across the world there are thousands of people who are displaced and seen as just migrants, not people with skills, abilities, talents and stories. I want to help change this situation."
The first three years in Liverpool were incredibly difficult because I could not find like-minded people to spend time with, people who could accept who I was and understand the reasons why I was here. Since I started to make music, living with Kepla in a shared house of 16 friends involved in the art and music community and working with Between The Borders – a migrant issues magazine – I’ve been given the chance to fully express myself, find support in my ambitions and help other asylum seekers find their voice. Working with my friends perfectly illustrates the theme of Our Shared Futures, being celebrated by Refugee Week UK, which I am supporting again.
Across the world there are thousands of people who are displaced and seen as just migrants, not people with skills, abilities, talents and stories. I want to help change this situation. I want to help change the way we think and talk about this global crisis. Whose crisis is it anyway? Crises for Europe and the developed world which needs to ‘cope’ with refugees? Refugees in the UK are facing harder times now, with issues like Brexit and racism, and I want to show them hope in the face of depression, which I experience myself.
I believe this is the journey I had to walk. I believe that there is no looking back, so I have to look forward and move forward. Being part of Meltdown Festival, which is being curated by M.I.A., and Refugee Week 2017 is so important. It shows that a refugee can make a transition, from being unheard in a prison in the UK to a point where I can talk about the problems in Iran and the UK to the world. I can be a voice for the voiceless.
Farhood will play M.I.A.’s Meltdown festival at Southbank Centre, London, 9-18 June, and launch Refugee Week on 18 June