From Iran to New Zealand: Ivan and Cushla’s journey

Ivan was an engineer and his wife Cushla owned a successful hair salon. The Iranian Government began harassing and spying on them, not because they had committed any crimes, but because they had some American friends – enough to excite suspicion. Ivan's emails were hacked, a rash of petty fines forced Cushla's salon to close, and then Ivan was arrested and detained for a week without charge. Free speech was not an option.

Plans to emigrate to Australia vanished when their passports were seized after they returned from a trip to Dubai. Ivan had to do something, for the sake of his wife and daughter. With his father-in-law's help he obtained false passports and prepared to flee, telling his family only that they were going shopping in another city.

The false passports got the family to Southeast Asia, but although they had tickets to Australia the family was arrested. Airport officials confiscated their money, but after a day in custody a sympathetic Vietnamese officer put them on a plane to Thailand.

The family waited six long weeks, stuck in a foreign country. Finally they accepted a direct flight to Auckland, where they immediately approached a policeman and admitted their illegal status. The family was detained and questioned for twelve hours, but eventually released. Ivan was issued with a temporary work visa and told to contact Immigration the next day.

They left Auckland Airport in August 2012 with $500 cash, a small back pack and the clothes on their backs. They felt isolated and alone, reliant on the kindness of strangers. The first was the hotel owner, who drove them to Immigration and then to a lawyer. Very quickly she changed from a stranger to their first NZ friend.

Ivan and Cushla soon heard of ASST, and our hostel became their home for the next three months. They were given warm clothing and other necessities, but even though they'd been through hell to get here, adapting to the New Zealand climate and culture wasn't easy.

"All my life I have tried to help others," said Cushla, reflecting on her time at the hostel. "I had to ask for help, and I found that very difficult."

After two months, identifications were issued for access to government financial help. Ivan and his family now have refugee status and they've applied for permanent residency. Cushla has taken on temporary work and Ivan is actively looking for a job.

"Praying is better than crying," Ivan declares. "I am happy that I can speak about ideas and philosophy without fear. New Zealand is perfect, and now I am here I feel I can do something about the human rights problems in my country."

"I like the culture here," says Cushla. "I like the kindness."