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I recently moved to the United Kingdom to pursue my graduate studies at the University of York. I am a Canadian citizen, but I am also an Iranian, and a proud one at that. Needing to open a bank account, I booked an appointment with HSBC. The meeting was going well, until the employee asked me where I am originally from, having seen on my passport that it was not Canada. I replied that I was born in Tehran and have been living in Canada for the past 15 years. After a pause, she excused herself and left the room.
Once back, she explained, rather sympathetically, that HSBC is not allowed to open accounts for anyone who has any ties to Iran. Despite my assurance that I was not funded by the Iranian government, she reiterated that she was not allowed to proceed with the process.
Shocked, I left.
Afterwards, I visited three other banks in the city. Lloyd’s, Barclay’s and the Royal Bank of Scotland all said the same thing. I had difficulties opening a bank account in the United Kingdom because I was born in Iran.
In an effort to increase international pressure on Tehran over its nuclear program, the European Commission implemented further sanctions on Iran between 2007 and 2012, which also included restrictions on transfer of funds to and from an Iranian person, entity or body.
For the past year, there have been endless reports about the effects of these crippling sanctions on Iran’s economy, and most importantly on the lives of ordinary Iranians, many of whom are dying due to the deprivation and shortage of medical treatment. Rarely, however, do we hear about the effects of these sanctions on Iranians living abroad. It was only after I had spoken to others that I realized I am not the first to have experienced this, and unfortunately am not likely to be the last.
Farhad Moshtagh Sefat is an Iranian Ph.D. candidate in the department of politics at the University of York. It took him three months to open a bank account when he first moved to the United Kingdom. He believes that the financial implications of sanctions heavily impact the quality of life of Iranians studying abroad, particularly when it comes to opening an account.
“It limits us to a particular bank branch or particular account,” he said.
The university lecturer claimed that the account was specifically for students, and certain facilities and features such as a checkbook were not available to him.
Moshtagh Sefat explains that due to soaring inflation, a large number of students had to become dependent on the government of the countries in which they were studying for financial support.
“We lost our personal and individual liberty of managing our financial conditions and situation,” he said.
“Nobody looked at your passport, whether it was Iranian or Canadian: as long as you had a link to Iran, you were the target of sanctions.”
These harsh financial conditions limited the possibility for research students to attend extracurricular activities as well, said Moshtagh Sefat.
Those who impose sanctions do not take into consideration how they would affect the lives of ordinary citizens, he said, a notion he thinks is unfair and prejudiced.
“It was the extension of the rule and the laws of one country to another country,” he explains, something that other countries were also forced to implement simply because they did not want to be excluded from the financial facilities of the U.S. government and its allies.
If the point of sanctions were to isolate Iran further in the hopes of bringing the regime to the negotiating table, its effect thus far have not improved Iranians’ perception of the West and created a form of collective punishment. It has only intensified their irritation and anger, said Yashar Moazez, an Iranian-Canadian student living in Hungary.
“Instead of trying to win the hearts and minds of Iranians abroad, they are strongly antagonizing them and frustrating them in the hope that they will turn against their government and put pressure on them,” Moazez wrote in an email.
Having experienced similar difficulties when wanting to open a bank account after moving to Budapest, Moazez said that steps taken by the U.S. government and European countries are “irrational” and “discriminatory,” since where you are born should be of no matter when wanting to open a bank account.
Moazez describes international sanctions as “collective punishment” as its effects can and will continue to be imprinted on the lives of Iranians.
The legitimacy and efficacy of international sanctions must be questioned further, as the evidence of the violation of human rights that has caused severe hardship for Iranian civilians both inside and outside Iran is clear.
Ordinary citizens seldom represent the policies of their governments, and attributing every individual with those policies is reflective of the unreasonable implementation of these sanctions.
In the end, when I compare myself to the 23,000 Iranians diagnosed with HIV and AIDS who have restricted access to drugs they need to stay alive, or to the 85,000 cancer patients who do not have access to chemotherapy and radiotherapy, I consider myself one of the lucky ones.
At least it was only a bank account.
Hanieh Khosroshahi is a special contributor to The Atlantic Post, based in York, United Kingdom.