"Georgia is already my home" – stories of Iranians who moved to Georgia
Due to its geographical proximity and simplified entry rules, Georgia has become attractive for the citizens of Iran for many years.
JAMnews spoke with three Iranians living in Georgia who came as tourists but then decided to stay.
They talk about how they have adapted in Georgian society, what difficulties and obstacles they face while living here.
Mina, 29 years old
I fell in love with Tbilisi as soon as I saw it. I first arrived here as a tourist three years ago and immediately realized that I wanted to live here. I fell in love with everything – the environment, the people, the atmosphere.
As soon as I returned to Iran, I immediately started looking for a job in Tbilisi. I found an Iranian travel company. I was hired and moved.
That was two years ago. It was summer, June 9th. I bought an apartment in Saburtalo (central district of Tbilisi), on Mindeli Street. Thus, I became a real resident of Tbilisi.
I was very worried because I had never lived alone before, especially in a foreign country. I had to start an independent life. I had many questions for myself, and I answered most of them in Georgia.
During these two years, I have faced many problems, and today this is my experience. Now I am an independent person.
When the pandemic began, I was working as a photographer for a travel company. I lost my job and was left without income. I had moderate savings that lasted for a short time. Then I had to ask my parents for help.
I started looking for a job, but I couldn’t find anything. Apart from the tourism sector, it is difficult for a foreigner to find work elsewhere.
Then I happened to be denied a residence permit. I still don’t know why.
This meant that I no longer belonged in the country where I moved, bought an apartment and considered it my home.
I was at home alone, with no income or work. I no longer had the right to live in Georgia. What was there for me to do? So I left.
Now I am in Tehran. I missed my family members, and now I feel good with them. I am preparing for the English exam but I am very disappointed. I didn’t do any harm to Georgia and still don’t know why I was not allowed to stay there.
Now I sit and think about how I can return again. I must definitely try. Life here in Iran is very hard and it gets harder every day. If I cannot leave for Georgia, I will try to leave for Europe.
I’m upset. Tbilisi was my life, my memories, my home and my homeland.
Fortunately, I am very sociable and I don’t have any difficulties communicating with people.
From the very beginning, I began to communicate openly and easily with everyone in Georgia, and I received the same in return – soon I made friends, and life in Georgia turned into one big fairytale journey.
Do you know what the most amazing thing in Georgia is? Everyone around is calm, cheerful and happy. Everyone here enjoys life. Georgia filled me with happiness too.
I love Narikala, Bridge of Peace, Abanotubani, Rustaveli, my favorite restaurant Machakhela and Georgian beer. I will never forget the time I spent with my friends and my boyfriend at Freedom Square. I also remember Halloween, which we celebrated on Leselidze Street in a bar. All were in costumes – some in funny ones, some in scary ones. We laughed a lot, I will never forget that.
I love the churches of Tbilisi. They make you think about the history of this country.
There were some unpleasant moments, but, fortunately, not frequently. For example, some people spoke to me differently when they learned that I was Iranian. The manner of speaking and attitude changed. I felt a negative vibe towards myself.
Reza, 32 years old
Four years ago, I arrived to attend Tbilisi Open Air festival and discovered this amazing country.
I decided to move here.
I learned that I would get a residence permit if I buy a property worth 35 thousand dollars. I had a coffee shop in Tehran, my small business. I sold and bought an apartment in Didi Digomi, on the outskirts of Tbilisi.
I heard that Georgia is a very convenient country for starting a business. The taxes are low, it’s easy to register a company, it costs only 100 lari (about $30).
However, everything turned out a bit more complicated. I had several business ideas, but as soon as I began to study the issue substantially, I encountered obstacles everywhere.
Finally, I contacted a friend of mine who works for Nissan in Japan. He sends me cars and I sell them in Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia.
I really love this place. I love the unique Georgian culture, Georgian people and delicious Georgian cuisine.
What surprised me the most? Life here begins at 11 o’clock, and not at 7 o’clock in the morning, and the feasts last until the morning, but I gradually got accustomed to it. Now I take Red Bull with me to the feast so that I can sit with friends until the morning. It turned out to be not difficult at all, but on the contrary, very pleasant.
From the day of my arrival, I have been trying to become a part of the culture of this country. I learned to read and write in Georgian, I speak a little. I have never had any unpleasant arguments with anyone. I spent two happy years in Tbilisi.
And now, six months ago, some problems emerged.
I was refused an extension of my residence permit. As a reason, I was told that I pose a threat to Georgia. Why? – Nobody could answer me.
I have not done anything wrong, I have not broken the law. I decided to hire a lawyer and appeal. I fought a lot and won the trial.
I’m allowed to live in Georgia for another year. Nobody knows what’s going to happen next. I expect that next year I will have to hire a lawyer and fight in court again. If I don’t win, I will have to leave the country. All my friends had the same problem.
Can you imagine – all my bank accounts were blocked. I had to ask my girlfriend to turn on her app to use the electric scooter.
We cannot buy anything online, we only have accounts in lari and we cannot transfer money abroad. This is all very complicated.
It is sad that people who love Georgians have to face such problems.
The main thing that keeps me here is my girlfriend. She is Georgian, lives here and I love her very much.
Do you know what impresses me the most? How strong Georgian women are. Families are headed by women, women are also active in business. I love it.
Negin, 30 years old
I feel so good in Georgia, because I can be myself – not necessarily cover my head, be free, be cheerful.
I have been living in Tbilisi for almost three years now. My sister and I rent an apartment together. Our landlord is a good man – he cut the rent in half during the pandemic and helped us a lot.
I first arrived as a tourist. Soon I decided to move here and start working as a tour guide. I traveled all over the country and met many people. I know Georgia just like my country. I even received a reprimand from Iranian tourists that I pay less attention to them than to local ones.
However, despite this, I often run into trouble. Many people kept asking – why am I here? Why don’t I return to my homeland? Often we are considered thieves or terrorists and we feel that our presence here is not pleasing someone.
At the same time, Georgia is already my home. I used to live in Lebanon, Turkey and Malaysia, but I haven’t stayed this long anywhere else. I found peace in this country, and it hurts me very much that because of the politics of my country, I feel a negative attitude towards myself.
In 2018, I had problems – I was denied a residence permit because I allegedly pose a threat to Georgia.
I submitted all the necessary documents to prove that I had no criminal record, that I pay all the bills, get paid and have not broken the law, but nothing helped.
I have been living with this problem for two years now. We cross the border once every 45 days, and then we return, because Iranian citizens are only allowed to stay in Georgia for 45 days without a residence permit.
Then I had a problem with the border police. They threatened me that they would not let me in if they saw that I was going through the control and coming back.
Now, when we cross the border, I am very afraid that this is the last flight and I will not be able to return. But I want to live here. I love these people and this country very much.
I hired a lawyer and appealed the decision; the court is still considering the case.
I am gradually losing hope. I also lost the peace I found in this country. I am very afraid that the police will stop me. Because of this, I carried my passport with me all the time, which I eventually lost. Now I’m even more worried. I have a feeling that I pose a danger to Georgia, but I don’t know why.
If everything works out and I get a residence permit, I will find a job and live here as long as I can.
* The material was prepared within the framework of the project of the Tolerance and Diversity Institute (TDI) “Raising awareness about migrants and their rights in Georgia during COVID-19” with the support of the International Organization for Migration (IOM).