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Champ's fight to stay in the UK

PLEA: The boxing champion is appealing for more signatures in his fight against deportation

THE CASE of a boxer who has fought six times for England but is being threatened with deportation to Nigeria has highlighted the issue of thousands of black people in the UK who may be stateless.

Stateless people, sometimes referred to as “legal ghosts”, are not recognised as nationals by any country.

DETENTION

And because they have no right to stay in this country they may face deportation to countries they have little knowledge of or long periods of detention even though there is nowhere they can be deported to.

Kelvin Bilal Fawaz, 29, who was selected to represented Team GB in 2012 and 2016, was trafficked to the UK as a teenager from Nigeria by an uncle. He was promised that his father would soon accompany him however this never happened.

Seven years after entering England, fleeing the clutches of domestic slavery and leaving the care system, Fawaz started his amateur boxing career. The troubled youngster quickly rose through the boxing ranks and was head hunted by Team GB for the 2012 and 2016 Olympics. He was also offered a lucrative three-year contract by boxing promoter Frank Warren, who predicted the young fighter would earn at least £230,000.

But his opportunity to exploit his talent in the ring has been lost after the Home Of- fice refused to issue him with a work visa. The Home Office has rejected several applications for citizenship by Fawaz over an 11-year period.

His marriage to a British citizen classified as void. The Nigerian High Commission has reportedly refused the Home Office’s application to secure Fawaz’s travel documents three times, because it claims while he was born there he is not a citizen – his father was a Lebanese immigrant to Nigeria and his mother is from Benin.

The situation means that Fawaz is effectively stateless, not recognised as a citizen of any country. He was held in a detention centre for 34 days including the Christmas and New Year period before he was freed on bail. Now Fawaz is urging Voice readers to support his campaign to remain in the UK.

A petition letter to the Home Office to keep Fawaz in the UK has garnered more than 58,000 signatures. Speaking to The Voice Fawaz said: “My release from custody was a complete surprise and I was so happy that I was jumping up and down for joy.

“But the treatment I’ve received from Home Office is appalling. “The impression I’ve been given is that I don’t deserve a decent quality of life here and I am despised; this is because I carried out some minor of- fences when I was young and had no parental guidance.

“Although I’ve turned my life around and could make this country proud, my past is being held against me, which has caused me to feel depressed. I’ve been allowed to box for England but I’m not wanted here.”

Fawaz continued: “The Home Office does not view me as a human being, but as a number. "My appeal is that the Home Office will give me a chance and members of the public will continue to support me. I’ve established my life in England, not in Nigeria. I wish the Home Office could appreciate this fact.”

Immigration campaigners have expressed concern that Britain is locking up stateless people for long periods even though there is nowhere they can be deported to and have called for a strict time limit on detention.

Although the exact number of stateless people in the UK is not known, every year hundreds of children from Africa and other parts of the world arrive in the UK without passports or any documentation to prove who they are, according to the charity AFRUCA (Africans Unite Against Child Abuse).

OPPORTUNITY

Very few get the opportunity to rebuild their lives like Fawaz has done and even when they do there is always the issue that their right to stay in the UK remains uncertain. AFRUCA founder and chief executive Debbie Ariyo said that because of the way they have been brought into the UK many young people feel powerless to challenge what is happening to them.

“Often the person who brings them here withholds their documents. If they manage to get away from the traffickers, it’s not uncommon to find them engaged in illegal activities because they feel they can’t do anything else.”

She continued: “Then there are other situations where a relative has brought someone to the UK using false documents. They are staying with a family but really they are being exploited as domestic servants.

"When the relationship breaks down and they are thrown out of the house that’s when they are likely to find themselves homeless or get involved in crime because there is often no way they can prove who they are. They very rarely understand the system they are going through and don’t know how to get the information they need.”

To support Kelvin Bilal Fawaz’s campaign to stay in the country, visit: you.38degrees.org.uk/ petitions/grant-kelvin-bilal-awaz-british-citizenship

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