Refugee Reality Check

Kent Barker, writing in the Hastings Independent in February 2018, tells the story of a stateless refugee fortunate enough to find friends in Britons.

This is the story of a boy called Javad. And it’s the story of a couple called Terry and Stuart who live in a small house in Hastings with two pampered cats. Javad now lives there too, sleeping in the conservatory because the house is so small. Javad is Iranian by birth. But now he’s stateless. His family – well certainly his parents – were killed in an earthquake in Bam in 2003. Javad was probably about 10 at the time. He and his sister survived and were sent to separate orphanages in Tehran. Since then they’ve seen each other only once.

Terry was a primary school teacher but switched to teaching vulnerable adults. So one day four years ago she’s teaching maths to various homeless people and she realises that one young man just isn’t getting it. Not just the maths, but pretty much anything in his life. Javad is, she realises, severely autistic.

I wish I could have been a fly on the wall, or a cat on the carpet, when she told Stuart that Javad would be coming to live with them. Well, when I say coming, actually she’d already moved him in. But it was only for three months. Just until they could sort out his refugee status. That was three years ago and he’s still there. And his status is still not sorted. In fact the Home Office keep telling him he’s likely to be deported. A concept he has some trouble understanding.

Terry has been working patiently with Javad, not just teaching him, but trying to learn from him too. However even after three years she can’t get a clear narrative of how he moved from Iran and travelled to England. He says that after leaving the orphanage he was working, and living, in a shoe factory in Tehran and saved enough money for the journey. He started off with a group of people who fell by the wayside and then he mysteriously appeared in Reading in 2007. Burns on his hands suggest he may have stowed away under trucks. Terry is sceptical about large parts of this story. But how Javad got here is almost irrelevant. It’s what happened to him after he arrived.

According to Terry the UK authorities are fairly sympathetic to young asylum seekers. He was placed in a hostel in Reading and provided with things like a bus pass. When he turned 18 that began to change. First he was shipped to Hastings – known to be a general clearing place for refugees. Then he had almost all his support withdrawn. To this day Javad can’t understand why his bus pass and his library card were taken away.

Writing on his website Javad says: “I am not allowed to work. Anyone employing me would face a big fine. I am not allowed to claim any sort of benefits which means I have no money for food, clothes or rent so I am totally reliant on the charity of others if I want shower gel, shoes or even a chocolate bar. I don’t have ID so can’t travel, get served in a bar or go to an 18 film. I can’t prove who I am or how old I am. My autism makes it difficult for me remember things such as my address.”

So Terry and Stuart are trying to get him official immigration status but so far without any success. “He was given temporary leave to remain as a minor,” says Terry. “But now he’s technically here illegally and could be deported. Regularising his position is unlikely to succeed because he isn’t openly gay, Christian or politically active. Neither is he confident enough to have a girlfriend and subsequently a child. Article 8 says everyone has a right to a family life and that there is no predefined definition of a family. However, in reality the home office will only accept marriage or children as family.”

So every six months Javad has to report to a detention centre in Croydon where he risks being detained. To apply for immigration status he has to go to Liverpool and show his passport or identification documents – except that he doesn’t have any. The only good news is that diplomatic relations between Britain and Iran are so bad that, for the moment anyway, he’s unlikely to be sent back there. And anyway the Home Office can’t prove he’s actually Iranian since he has no papers.

Terry believes that his best chance is to get maximum publicity for his plight and she appeals to everyone to sign the petition to the Home Office on his website. “Javad is part of our family and one of my best friends. He is typically Asperger’s. He hates change, loud noise, lights or lots of people. He has formed a close relationship with me as his primary carer and we talk about everything. It would break my heart to lose him.”

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