Iranian model Negzzia has been living on the street in Paris for the past few months. At age 29 she fled her home country, fearing the authorities’ revenge for her “immodest” photos, only to find herself alone, with no legal status, wandering between men who try to exploit her.
But now, after France’s interior minister intervened, her life seems to be making a turn for the better.
Negzzia was one of Iran’s leading models, who like some of her colleagues had been leading a double life. These stars are photographed in compliance with the morality police’s codes, though on Instagram they often adopt a much more Western and “immodest” look. They enjoy a wide following, both men and women.
Negzzia’s fate was sealed when the Revolutionary Guards arrested a photographer she once worked with. She learned that he broke down under interrogation and gave the police photos showing her partially nude.
From that moment, the risk of arrest and a flogging hovered over her. Through her contacts she was able to quickly move to Turkey and from there to Paris. She hoped that in the global capital of fashion and modeling she’d quickly find work.
But life happened. In November, shortly after arriving in France, Negzzia registered at an office that takes care of asylum seekers and refugees. Bureaucracy, of course, works slowly, so for a while she remained without legal status and without the ability to work or study.
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In an interview last week with the daily Le Parisien and France 24 TV, she told how she stayed in cheap hotels until her money ran out, then she spent nights on city benches and the like, making sure to hide her face.
“During the day I’d sit in heated cafés, trying to accumulate some heat for the freezing nighttime,” she said, adding that her despair led to a suicide attempt by jumping onto a railway track. Someone saved her, but other times, people tried to exploit her.
“One day I was introduced to a man who my ‘friends’ said was trying to help me,” she said. “He quickly turned violent and treated me rudely, telling me he’d employ me as a stripper. I immediately and strongly refused. He got annoyed and told me that I didn’t realize that my status was like that of a slave, and spat in my face.”
Negzzia finally managed to get temporary housing at a center for asylum seekers, as well as a daily allowance of 6.8 euros from the ministry responsible for refugees. She carefully plans her expenses, forgoing meals so she can pay for trips to a gym.
A few weeks ago, with the help of an Iranian émigré lawyer, she approached the media and her story went viral. A few days ago, French Interior Minister Christophe Castaner tweeted that his people were in touch with her and her case was being reviewed favorably.