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Last Updated: Wednesday, 18 July 2007, 14:18 GMT 15:18 UK
An asylum seeker's escape: part two
By Russell Joslin
BBC News

An asylum seeker who was deported to Iran in 2004 has been describing how he managed to escape from custody and make his way back to the UK.

In part two of this three-part series, the BBC News Website takes up Shahin Portofeh's story from the point he escaped custody in Iran.

"Ten times the National Security Agency people raided my mum's house searching for me.

"They showed a letter (to my mother).

"They'd got an order from the judge that if I didn't hand myself to the government, they... are allowed to shoot me."

Shahin Portofeh
Shahin Portofeh is now living in Manchester
Mr Portofeh said he escaped over the Turkish border, along with several other people who were being helped by agents who specialise in people smuggling.

Out of Iran but still in danger of being caught by the Turkish authorities and returned to Tehran, Mr Portofeh then made his way to the coast.

He then rowed 10 miles out to sea under cover of darkness to a Greek island and, he hoped, safety.

Coastguard stand-off

"I was about 200 hundred yards away when I was captured by the Greek coastguard," he said.

"I'm trying to save my life but the Greeks don't want me and kick me back to Turkey (Turkish waters).

"(Later) the Turkish coastguard arrived, so they drop me right in the middle of the sea five miles from Turkey, five miles from Greece.

"I am wondering: 'What is going to happen now?' And I am stuck in the middle thinking: "What is happening here?"

"I see a big gun, pulled out on the Turkish boat and (it looks like) they are preparing to fight or something - nothing to do with me.

Shahin Portofeh

"Then - three minutes later - a speedboat, an armed military one from the Greek side, appeared in between us and scared the Turkish boat away.

"The Greek coastguard got me and they started swearing at me and beating me up.

"They took me back to the Greek Island and tell me I will be detained for three months because I had illegally entered Greek waters and then after three months (they say) I will be deported to Turkey."

Now held in a detention centre on a Greek island, Mr Portofeh plotted his escape.

Crucial to his plans was making a copy of the key to the padlock on the main gates of the warehouse where he and 200 more detainees were confined.

Baguette impression

Then he says he had a stroke of luck, finding a box of tools left unguarded by workmen.

"Some people got the screwdriver, I got the file.

"Some people got different pliers and other things stored away, hidden under the mattress of the bed.

"I just got the file and thought it might be useful because all the time I as thinking and planning to escape "It was a big warehouse and many people, 250 people, live in there and daily they opened it twice to feed everybody."

He said at one mealtime, he managed to briefly get hold of the padlock key which the guards had left in the lock while the detainees ate.

Mr Portofeh said he used this window of opportunity to make an impression of the key.

French journalist

"They'd given us a baguette bread. Inside it was very doughy, spongy and quite soft.

"I removed the key and pressed onto the dough to get the print of the key."

"And I find a piece of aluminium by the window, removed it and start to file and I had it (a copy of the padlock key) finished in three or four hours. "I wasn't sure it was going to work but I put it in the padlock and it worked."

However, Mr Portofeh said the security guards spotted him trying to escape and beat him up again, before returning him to custody.

"They put me back in again to the same detention centre (it meant) I could get my file back again.

"When I got it I removed the bars to the window of the cell - it was around noon - the perfect time to get away, they were not going to notice anything.

"I just picked them (the bars) off the window and jump on the other side, outside the detention centre and I just ran away."

A fugitive on a small Greek island, Mr Portofeh had another stroke of luck.

Almost immediately after fleeing he ran into a French journalist who had interviewed him while he was inside the detention centre.

He says she gave him money and helped him get a ticket on a ferry to mainland Greece.

Mr Portofeh eventually returned to the UK in 2005 and settled in Manchester. He has been given leave to remain for five years.

The next leg of Mr Portofeh's journey back to the UK - to be published on Friday - was as a stowaway.

He picks up his story as he hides himself underneath a lorry in a car park at a Greek port.

'How I escaped from torture in Iran'
16 Jul 07 |  Coventry/Warwickshire
Asylum seeker loses fight to stay
20 Jul 04 |  Coventry/Warwickshire
Asylum seeker ends deportation protest
11 Jul 03 |  West Midlands
Asylum seeker sews up eyes
08 Jul 03 |  West Midlands

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