Wednesday, 2 March 2011

What did you do for your 18th birthday?

Thirteen years ago I celebrated my 18th birthday. I didn't celebrate it in May as I was preparing for my A-levels.  I had saved some money so in the summer I went to Crete with some friends from school. Each night we went out to the bars and clubs. Each day we recovered by the swimming pool. It was a typical summer break for someone who had just left high school in 1998.

Maybe that's why I am particularly affected by what's happening at my workplace.

A number of my students will be turning 18 this year.

I think it will be an enjoyable milestone for the Pole and the Latvian and their families.

The three Afghan boys are in a very different place.

Although they are supported by Social Services they are essentially alone here in the UK.

As these Afghans turn seventeen and a half they are prepared for "leaving care".

The Government plans to return 400 young Afghans to Kabul this year.

Deportations have begun because the Government deems Kabul to be safe, despite the two suicide bombs which have killed 17 people since the beginning of this year.     

The government is opening a reception centre for returnees where, supposedly, they will be given support.  I believe this was put out to tender for a three year contract in March 2010.  The centre will house 76 returnees (link). This does not fill me with confidence. 

It is well documented that the most extreme of the Taliban linked insurgency groups is stepping up its activity in Kabul.
            Spate of Kabul Suicide Bombs Blamed on Nearby Valley, The National, 17 February 2011
EXCERPT: "Two suicide bomb attacks in as many months on shoppers in Kabul, after a seven-month lull in serious violence in the city, have raised fears that insurgents are bolstering their strongholds on the outskirts of the capital.”

My students could be included in the 400 returned to Kabul this year. What can I do to stop this? What guidance and support is available? I'm not sure the college guidance and welfare team are experienced in supporting students in deportation cases.

I have decided to discuss my thoughts with my students and try and support them in setting up a support network for themselves and others who may be in similar positions. Giving this group a voice through media, the internet and direct actions may help.

Writing about it may help.

At a time of cuts in all sectors of society I doubt the plight of a few Afghan boys is of much concern to the general public.

A quick Google search, however, has produced this campaign - -  Young People Seeking Safety Week

Between 28 March - 3 April 2011, groups will be hosting events during a week of nation-wide awareness raising about this issue, YPSS Week 2011 will be showing films and art of young people made for the occasion. For more information visit the campaign website
I believe that these young people have suffered enough and that returning them to Afghanistan will endanger their lives.

I hope that supporting my students to find their voices will prevent what seems to be a dark and fearful destiny.

In Leeds, systems have been developed to quickly engage new arrivals, aged 16-18 and get them enrolled in  ESOL classes. A strong partnership, between Leeds Social Services and Leeds City College, has ensured that new arrivals are fast tracked into college. The systems were developed in response to a large number of migrant children missing enrolment due to their arrival date being after the start of an academic year. They then fell into the NEET category (Not in Employment, Education or Training). Good community links and a reputation for accommodating young people has created a dynamic solution to their needs. Please contact me if you would like to know more about my work.

Thanks for reading.


  1. Thanks for this, Mike. Such an important read, and I do hope as many people read it, whether in ESOL or EFL or some other area of teaching.

    I'm not aware of any particular students who I teach being in this situation, but given that there are a number of them from Afghanistan there must be some who are maybe facing this in the future. I am a little ashamed to say that I had little to no idea that this is on the cards for this government and these students.

    Thank you for opening my eyes

  2. On behalf of Mark from Croydon.

    I'm an ESOL teacher in Croydon. I totally agree with what you've said based on my experiences here.

    It seems the government has increased to an almost unreachable level the requirement to prove that one is in danger, which Afghani asylum seekers have to prove in court to be granted leave to reamain here, while at the same time now counting Kabul as safe, and using that as an argument for saying that those from other more dangerous areas can be sent back there specifically regardless.
    This is certainly what happened to a young man I know, who has now gone awol rather than be deported.

    I would be keen to hear about awareness-raising and other actions regarding this, and will have a look at the links you've mentioned.


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