Bashir Naderi and his girlfriend, Nicole Cooper.
Thousands of people, politicians, celebrities and refugee charities have backed a campaign to stop a teenager who fled to Britain from Afghanistan as a 10-year-old after his father was murdered from being forcibly removed to the country of his birth.
Bashir Naderi’s sole memory of Afghanistan is his father being shot by the Taliban and he has no contacts with family or friends, cannot speak any of the Afghan languages and claims he will not survive if he is sent back.
Naderi, 19, was detained by immigration officials in Cardiff – where he was brought up by a loving foster family – taken to Gatwick airport and came within minutes of being forced on to a plane bound for Kabul when his long-term girlfriend and her family managed to win him a temporary reprieve.
Naderi said he was terrified that any day now he might be detained again and sent back to a country he fears and has no connections with. “I am really, really scared,” Naderi told the Guardian. “I was in the middle of my college exams when all this happened. My life and my family is here. I feel as if I was born in Cardiff, not Afghanistan. I couldn’t cope there.”
His foster mother, Dawn Jackson, who took Naderi in, said she was frightened for the teenager. “I love him to death. I’ve had him for 10 years. I’ve nurtured him, looked after him. He’s part of my family. He’s a Cardiff boy. The Home Office seem to think it’s safe for him to go back. We know it’s not. It’s a very cruel society that can do this to a young man.”
Naderi aged 13 with his foster mother, Dawn Jackson
After his father was shot, Naderi’s mother sold the family’s land to send her son to the UK. He does not know what has happened to her. It took him a year to reach Britain, where he was placed with Jackson in the Welsh capital. He flourished, attending a Catholic high school, gaining nine GCSEs and going on to study at Cardiff and Vale college.
Naderi was detained after attending what he thought was going to be a routine immigration appointment and spent 11 days behind bars at a police station in Wales and a detention centre.
“I’ve never been in trouble but it felt as if I had been put in prison,” said Naderi. When it became clear that he was going to be taken to Gatwick to be put on a plane, he resisted, was restrained with some sort of belt and suffered a wrist injury, meaning his lower arm is now in a cast. “The guards just laughed,” he said.
Meanwhile Naderi’s girlfriend, Nicole Cooper, 24, the daughter of a retired policeman, was at the Royal Courts of Justice in London trying to halt the process.
At the last moment, Naderi’s lawyer managed to obtain a stay of removal, arguing Afghanistan was not safe for him because he was so westernised. Naderi, nursing his injured arm, was freed and left outside in the cold for two and a half hours as he waited for Cooper’s family to pick him up.
It is now up to the Home Office to make the case again for Naderi’s removal. It could lead to a judicial review that may have implications for many other unaccompanied youngsters who have made a life in the UK and become westernised. Naderi is on tenterhooks. “I’m not myself. I can’t sleep. Life is on hold,” he said.
The response to the case has been extraordinary. By Thursday around 12,000 people had signed a petition calling for Naderi to be allowed to stay. The Welsh singers Charlotte Church and Cerys Matthews were among those to voice support.
Members of all parties at the Welsh assembly – including Ukip – took part in a demonstration in support of Naderi on the steps of the Senedd on Wednesday.
Welsh Assembly members of all parties fighting home office attempt to send Bashir Naderi back to Afghanistan pic.twitter.com/EhYmzEv173
November 10, 2016 steven morris
The Labour assembly member Jenny Rathbone said: “He is a Cardiff citizen. He’s an amazing guy, very keen to make a contribution. I think there’s a deliberate policy for the UK government to push back all the people who were unaccompanied minors. That is really worrying.”
Immigration is not a devolved issue but responding to an urgent question on Naderi’s case, the Welsh government’s cabinet secretary for children and communities, Carl Sargeant, said: “I hope the home secretary will take note of the views expressed here and among the wider Welsh public.”
Jo Stevens, the MP for Cardiff Central and shadow Welsh secretary, said the case highlighted a wider issue. “To forcibly remove Bashir and others like him to a country where there is a high security risk seems completely against what the public wants,” she said.
Judith Dennis, policy manager for the Refugee Council, said: “It’s utterly baffling that the government is doggedly determined to return these teenagers to a country where the security situation is worsening.”
A report from the Refugee Support Network published this year said that since 2007 more than 2,000 youngsters had been forcibly removed to Afghanistan. It monitored 25 and found that most struggled to find work or access education and suffered mental health problems.
If an unaccompanied child qualifies for asylum, they are granted limited leave to remain, normally for a period of five years. Once an individual turns 17½, the Home Office expects them either to start making preparations to return to their country of origin once they turn 18 or to make a further application for leave to remain. These applications are considered on a case by case basis.
A Home Office spokesperson said it could not comment on individual cases.