Abdullah* is one of the 255 Afghan children who arrived in the UK in 2012 and claimed asylum. His village had been taken over by the Taliban and his father had been forced to join the fighting. Abdullah, although just a 14 year old child, was expected to fight too and was taken to a training camp. He managed to escape and return to his village but his life was now in danger. An uncle sold land to pay an agent to facilitate the traumatic and dangerous journey experienced by many lone children each year: walking over mountains, travelling on precarious boats and on the back of lorries.
When he arrived in the UK, aged 16; exhausted and bewildered, Abdullah was given Discretionary Leave to Remain**. Taken into the care of Social Services, he was put into shared housing with four other teenage boys and started studying English and IT at college. The opportunity to learn to read, write and use computers was extremely exciting for Abdullah. In Afghanistan, he’d only had informal education for two years in his local mosque and he had always wanted to go to school.
The college environment was exciting but challenging, and Abdullah struggled to fit into such an unfamiliar context. His college referred him to RSN for additional support and we matched him with a volunteer educational mentor, Tim*. Tim is an accountant who works in a large city firm and had never met an asylum-seeking child before, but as got to know each other better every week, they started overcoming the differences in their personal situations.
Abdullah had always felt nervous speaking English with people he didn’t know, and he often got bad grades because he was embarrassed to admit, in front of his classmates, that he didn’t always understand things. But when he started meeting up with Tim, his teachers saw a huge improvement in his confidence and ability to speak English, ask questions, and persevere when things got hard".
Earlier this year, Abdullah became increasingly distracted. As he approaches his 18th birthday, he’s had to apply for an extension of his Discretionary Leave to Remain. Some of Abdullah’s friends have already done this and been refused. Because they are no longer children, they’ve been told that they cannot remain in the UK and, at this stage, detention and forced removal to Afghanistan become a real possibility. Abdullah may have to wait a couple of years for a decision and, in the face of great uncertainty, stress and fear, he started struggling to cope with life.
Tim was worried by the change in Abdullah, who was now close to dropping out of college, and approached RSN for help. Through our Youth on the Move programme designed for young Afghans in Abdullah’s situation, we offered him some additional practical and emotional support. Making time to listen to and address some of his specific concerns enabled Tim and Abdullah to keep their mentoring sessions focussed on education, encouraging Abdullah to keep engaging with his studies as a normalising routine and investment in his future.
And it helped Abdullah to know that, whatever happens in the next couple of years, RSN is committed to him as a person and won’t stop standing alongside him.
*Names have been changed and the photo is not of Abdullah. Image from Depositphotos.com.
**At the time of writing, children like Abdullah were given Discretionary Leave to Remain if they were refused asylum. This has now been changed and if he was in the same situation now he would be given Limited Leave to Remain for Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children ('UASC leave').