migrantvoice
Speaking for Ourselves

Editorial: You'll never have a home

Editorial: You'll never have a home

MV

 Migrant Voice -
 Migrant Voice - Editorial: You'll never have a home

Detaining and deporting people who were brought to the UK as children and whose whole life is here is a particularly cruel part of this government’s immigration policy, and we are calling urgently for a new approach.

Migrant Voice member Kelvin Bilal Fawaz – who we know as Bilal – was brought to the UK aged 13, abandoned and forced into domestic slavery. He grew up in Nigeria, but his parents (from Lebanon and Benin) are both dead. He’s not a citizen of any of those countries. Now 31, he’s a champion boxer for England, and he’s got a British wife.

But he’s also currently sitting in Brook House immigration centre in West Sussex as the UK Home Office tries for a second time to deport him to Nigeria, where he isn’t a citizen and where he hasn’t been for 17 years.

“This country is my home,” Bilal told us last year. “I have no other place. I speak like a British. I’m a national champion. I represent the country. I don’t know anything about Nigeria.”

By denying him the right to work, study, rent a house, drive a car or use the NHS, the government has denied Bilal the chance of a dignified, fulfilling life. And by arresting and detaining him, they are punishing him for a decision that was never his – the decision to come to the UK in the first place.

They are also punishing him for being stateless, for having a complex heritage that has sadly left him a citizen of nowhere. That’s not a crime and in fact, statelessness should entitle a person to the protection of the state that hosts them. The UK state is failing in that duty.

We urge the Home Office:

  • Release Bilal immediately and give him leave to remain in the UK and a path to citizenship.
  • Stop detaining and deporting people who were brought to the UK as children and who have since made this country their home. Give them the right to stay and to live dignified lives.

Bilal’s case also exemplifies the pointless cruelty and expense of the UK’s immigration detention system. Knowing he is stateless, the Home Office detained him in 2017 before trying (and failing) to deport him to Nigeria. Knowing he is stateless, they have this week done the same thing.

Speaking to The Guardian from Brook House this week, Bilal said: “I’m just so depressed and – without the medication I have been on for depression since 2013 – I’m terrified what will happen to me tonight.”

We’ve seen the campaign to put a time limit on immigration detention take a leap forwards this week, with a 100,000-signature petition presented at Westminster and a report published by Liberty revealing that alternatives to detention could save the government £25-35 million per year.

We fully back the campaign for a 28-day limit – but we also see it as just one step on the road to ending immigration detention, which shockingly allows people to be jailed indefinitely without having committed a crime, and is degrading, expensive and unnecessary.

As Bilal said himself, “I don’t understand why they had to arrest me. I’ve never broken a single condition put on me by the Home Office. If they’d told me to attend an interview with the Nigerian high commission, I would have done. But they didn’t tell me or my lawyer: they just arrested me without warning.”

Driven by an obsession with net migration statistics and a hostile attitude towards immigrants, this government has chosen to see Bilal as a foreign criminal to be deported. That’s plain wrong – he’s a stateless human being who has never been to jail and whose worst crime is driving without a licence a decade ago.

“I am past the stage of being mad,” he told us last year. “I always see beauty in darkness. I feel that one day I will be successful. I want to train people. I’m also doing music. I’m trying to lay foundations.”

To the UK government we say: let him out and let him lay those foundations. And allow all those who came to the UK as children to do the same.