‘He simply wouldn’t be able to understand’: Grandparents caring for autistic teenager threatened with deportation to Iran


The Home Office is attempting to deport an elderly couple to Iran, despite having built a life in the UK for over 40 years and acting as co-parents to a grandchild requiring care

  • Mozaffar Saberi and Rezvan Habibimarand first bought a flat in Edinburgh in 1978
  • They have since built a life in Scotland with their four children, 11 grandchildren and a great-grandchild
  • They act as co-parents to one grandchild whose severe autism requires constant care and supervision
  • The Home Office has argued the social services could replace the care offered by the couple
  • Green MSP Andy Wightman has described it as “a shocking case arising from Theresa May’s hostile environment”

THE FAMILY of an elderly Edinburgh couple threatened with deportation to Iran by the Home Office under legislation introduced by Theresa May in 2012 has gained widespread support from local politicians and thousands of sympathisers.

83-year-old Mozaffar Saberi and 73-year-old Rezvan Habibimarand currently provide the care and supervision required by one of their 11 grandchildren, who has severe autism, allowing the teenager’s single parent mother to continue working as an NHS nurse. The couple’s medical needs have also required the assistance of their four children.

In the 1970s, Saberi attended the University of Edinburgh for a completion course in dentistry. Since then, they have travelled in and out of Iran to the UK to visit their family every few years.

Despite having built a life in the UK since buying their flat in Edinburgh since 1978, the couple are now faced with the possibility of being deported to Iran by the Home Office, which has been unsympathetic thus far to arguments that their loss would be extremely detrimental to the grandchild that relies on them, as well as potentially losing them the level of healthcare they require.

Habibimarand said: “Going back to Iran would be the end for us. We have so many illnesses that it would not just be physically the end for us, because there is not the level of healthcare we need in Iran, but emotionally the end too: there’s no one in Iran for us to go back to.”

Navid Saberi, the couple’s son, also said: “With no exaggeration, sending them back to Iran would be a death sentence. The day-to-day help and support my siblings and I give our parents isn’t available to be purchased in Iran, even if we could somehow get the necessary money into the country – which is not at all guaranteed because of the sanctions. The distress of having to live alone would mean my parents’ end would come very soon.”

The couple have made repeated human rights applications to remain in the UK since 2013, all of which have been refused by the Home Office, due to a change in law introduced by then-Home Secretary Theresa May in July 2012, mere months before the couple made their application.

Prior to this, an adult relative’s need for emotional, physical or financial support from UK-based adult children would have justified the granting of visas. This was no longer the case following May’s reforms, which were intended to reduce net migration to the UK, and including a tightening of the ‘adult dependant relative’ rule. A hearing on the couple’s final appeal is due in late February.

A spokesperson for the Home Office commented earlier this month: “All UK visa applications are considered on their individual merits, on the basis of the evidence available and in line with UK immigration rules.”

John Vassiliou, a partner at McGill & Co Solicitors, has commented: “The Home Office does not give any weight to the relationships with their adult children and contrary to the conclusions of the independent expert, and without so much as an interview with any member of the family, took the view that their autistic grandson could adapt to their absence.

“It seems that the Home Office would prefer that someone quit their job and resort to burdening the public purse rather than allowing the child’s grandparents to stay and help out.” McGill & Co Solicitor partner John Vassiliou

“They also said that the child’s mother ‘can seek assistance from social services who can provide specialist care for her son’. It seems that the Home Office would prefer that someone quit their job and resort to burdening the public purse rather than allowing the child’s grandparents to stay and help out.”

According to a charted psychologist experienced with children with autism, who wrote a report on the case provided to the Home Office, argued that separating the teenager from his grandparents would be extremely detrimental to both him and his mother.

Speaking to CommonSpace, Darren Hoyland, one of the couple’s grandchildren, described his grandparents’ health issues, treatment for which may not be adequately available in Iran. 

“At the moment it’s nothing drastic – they’re independent, more or less,” Hoyland said. “However, they need their children to help them go through the process of sorting these things out. For example, my Gran needed a hip replacement. For her and my grandfather to have sorted that out on their own would have been impossible, really.

“And the healthcare they’ve been getting has been paid for. It probably shouldn’t matter, but it does have a bearing on what people will think. They’re not here to use the NHS. There have been a few other things – my grandfather has been doing things for his hearing. It would be too difficult for them to do it in Iran.”

Regarding the Home Office’s contention that the care provided by his grandparents could be replaced by that of social services, Hoyland said: “There is no other option for us really, other than his mother quitting her job as a nurse. She’s a British citizen, so she would be entitled to the social services, and that’s what she would have to do. His needs are such that not just anyone can look after him, so it would have to be her. Apart from all the emotional distress, that would be quite a damaging thing to have to happen.”

Explaining the context of the psychologist’s report and the Home Office response, Hoyland said: “The psychologist has stated it would be extremely damaging if his grandparents were to leave – he simply wouldn’t be able to understand.

“Their [the Home Office] response to that, if you can believe this, was that when our grandparents have left, they [the teenager and his mother] can visit their empty home, and that would take the place of him visiting his grandparents.”

Asked if he knew how many others might be faced with similar threats of deportation under the reforms introduced by Theresa May, Hoyland said: “I have no idea, to be honest, but having looked at some of the comments on Twitter and the petition, we’re certainly not an isolated case. But I’m tending not to spend much time looking at the comments, because there’s some negative stuff there as well.”

“Having looked at some of the comments on Twitter and the petition, we’re certainly not an isolated case.” Darren Hoyland

However, Vassiliou told the Guardian newspaper: “The consequence of this tightening is that it has become almost impossible for any British citizen or settled person to bring their adult parents in to the UK to live with them. The criteria that have to be satisfied are so severe that I have yet to meet anyone who has been able to meet them.”

The petition in support of his grandparents, which remains online, has had “a huge response,” Hoyland said. “We’ve been overwhelmed. I think it’s around 120,000 now – above and beyond anything we could have expected.”

The family have also gained political support from their local Labour MP Ian Murray, who has written to Home Secretary Sajid Javid urging him to “do the sympathetic thing and allow the applicants right of remain in this country so they can be looked after by their loving family and, in return, give that support to their daughter and severely autistic grandson.”

Additionally, SNP MSP and Scottish Government migration minister Ben MacPherson has also written to Javid, saying that the Home Office position “defies common sense” and advocating a similar position to Murray, asking that the case be looked upon “as a matter of urgency.”

Green MSPs Alison Johnstone and Andy Wightman have made further appeals to the Home Secretary, writing: “We plead with you to use your discretion in this matter to ensure that Mozaffar and Rezvan can continue living in the United Kingdom and remove the threat of deportation that hangs over them.”

You can sign the petition to call on the Home Office to allow the grandparents to stay in the UK at change .org.

Picture courtesy of Ungry Young Man

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