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Canadian-Iranian refugees look to homeland protests with optimism

Last Updated Jan 6, 2018 at 4:48 pm PDT

In this Dec. 30, 2017 file photo, taken by an individual not employed by the Associated Press and obtained by the AP outside Iran, university students attend an anti-government protest inside Tehran University, in Tehran, Iran. (AP Photo, File)

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – Iranian refugees in Canada feel optimistic about their home country’s future as protests continue to expand and intensify.

Now in their 12th day, the demonstrations in Iran are said to have been sparked by the country’s slumping economy, high food prices and anger over corruption.

“This is a grass-roots movement. This is the movement of people who are hungry, unemployed, educated, and ready to work. They are against the corruption of the totality of this regime. This is very very exciting for us. I am very optimistic,” Canadian-Iranian refugee Abbas Mandegar said.

Mandegar, his partner and their young daughter fled Iran to neighbouring Pakistan in 1987 and arrived in Canada two years later. Since then, he has helped other Iranians take their first steps in Canada through the International Federation of Iranian Refugees, but he has been unable to return home.

Despite the Iranian government’s heavy censorship and attempts to shut down nearly all forms of communication, Mandegar keeps in touch with loved ones through social media apps such as Instagram and the popular encrypted messaging system Telegram. He says Iranians in Canada and those he’s spoken to in Iran see a chance for progress because, unlike a similar uprising in 2009 dubbed The Green Movement, these protests began among the people, rather than politicians and religious leaders.

“(The Green Movement) was led by a faction of the government, of the regime… Now the leadership is within people from the grassroots, by the labour movement, the teachers associations, the youth organizations,” he said.

However, without clear leadership – like that seen in 2009 – the future of the movement and its direction remain uncertain.

In addition, in a country where more than half the population is under 30 and increasingly educated, Mandegar said he feels youth are taking advantage of social media to talk to each other and the world to expose government abuse.

“Nothing is being hidden now. Those young people who have been arrested, their names and pictures are all over the place. So we are watching, and I want the world to watch too,” he said.

At least 21 people have been killed and hundreds arrested amid the anti-government protests. Up to 42,000 people took part in the protests, according to Iran’s Interior Minister. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of people have attended pro-government rallies in recent days.

Mandegar joined others from several Vancouver groups on the steps of the Vancouver Art Gallery on Saturday to show support for the anti-government demonstrations.