Treacherous flight to safety

AUSTRALIA gave Iranian-born May Missaghian and her husband Alex Eskenderi, who now live in Launceston, the chance of a great life.

As followers of the Baha'i faith, Ms Missaghian, 51, and Mr Eskenderi, 50, were persecuted in Iran by the dominant Islamic belief.

Every opportunity to live; to work, learn, own property and exist with freedom, was foiled by the higher religious order of Islam, that fought for its control in the Islamic Iranian Revolution of 1978.

And so almost 25 years ago, Ms Missaghian aged 25, made the decision to leave, spent 10 months in Pakistan, and came to Australia in 1988. Mr Eskenderi arrived two years later.

"After the revolution they started persecuting the Baha'i. My uncle was hanged," Ms Missaghian said.

"I think everybody was under pressure economically. We couldn't work, we weren't able to study, they try and make life very difficult.

"You get to a stage where you want to run away."

Ms Missaghian said she waited six years to get out, and escaped alone, to join her eldest brother in Australia, not knowing whether she would see her parents or younger brother again.

She said she paid a drug smuggler to cross the Iranian border into Pakistan, and assist her as an illegal immigrant to the United Nations embassy.

"It was a 50-50 chance that you get killed by the drug smuggler or you get out of Iran, so that is what I had to do," she said.

"I remember walking in the middle of the night, so many hours, and then suddenly he (the smuggler) said `have a rest'.

"It took nearly 12 hours to walk across the border, and seven days to reach the UN. Thinking back at my time in Pakistan, I still get goosebumps."

Mr Eskenderi, who arrived in Australia by crossing the Iranian and Turkey border with a drug smuggler, said Australia was known by the escaping Baha'is as a safe country.

"If you want to grow up your life, and learn whatever it is you've got in your mind, this is the best place to be," Mr Eskenderi said.

"That is why you put your own life in danger to come here ... when I was working in Woolworths in Sydney I was telling my friends that I come and kiss the ground and say `thanks I'm here in Australia'," he said.

"What a fantastic country.

"And another thing - you can scream, and you can shout, and can complain, but over there if you say `boo', it doesn't even take them half an hour to put you down."

Once in Australia, in Sydney, Ms Missaghian said she immediately started learning English.

"You come in and you don't know the language, you have your own culture and all the rest, but you learn the culture, and the first six months was hard but it wasn't a huge difficulty," she said.

"I came here with nothing. I just brought my youth. Coming here gave me opportunity."

Ms Missaghian was able to obtain a university degree in pharmacy, and has worked in public health for 20 years.

The couple moved to Tasmania with their son Tristan, 15, nine years ago, and own the Trevallyn pharmacy where Ms Missaghian works.

With a heavy sigh caught in her voice Ms Missaghian said Baha'i schoolchildren still get slandered at school and Muslims employing Baha'is, who may be friends, are forced to fire them.

"If you kill a Baha'i, your rank goes higher," Ms Missaghian said.

"If you die you don't even have the right to have a burial and your grave gets desecrated.

"My grandfather and aunt's graves - their headstones got broken, and the place was bulldozed.

"Little kids get physical and verbal abuse from school officials, you have no right to go to university, no right to get a job, property gets confiscated, and you can't complain - who are you going to complain to?"

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