On the night of December 19 I received a message from Laura. Our mutual friend Ahmed had been missing since the previous day, he was supposed to play football but didn’t show up. His phone was disconnected and he was last seen online more than 20 hours earlier. One of our friends had knocked on his door but received no answer.
The morning after the police informed us he was “safe and well” but could not disclose his location or other information. It was only later in the afternoon that we received an email from Ahmed, telling us he was being detained by the Home Office, he could not use his personal smartphone and had only 50 minutes Internet access per day, on an embarrassingly slow connection. The Home Office notified him he was at risk of deportation.
The first time I met Ahmed was 5 years ago, on a sunny Sunday morning on a football pitch. We’ve been very good friends since, we are both Ph.D students in the Department of Computer Science of The University Of Sheffield. After spending 5 years together in the Steel City I consider him more a brother than a friend. Ahmed has a very kind personality, he is very approachable and ready to listen.
His hometown, Mosul, has been under ISIS occupation since June 2014. His dad had recently passed away due to the lack of access to medical assistance. The rest of his family was forcefully displaced and had to leave behind their home and possessions.
Nonetheless Ahmed was always ready to help his friends when they needed someone to talk to and support them.
The day after Ahmed was detained, Laura and I were trying to understand how we could help. We came to the conclusion that we needed to address the Home Office through a powerful channel and what better way to show our support than starting a petition. It was time for his friends to support him, just like he supported them in the past.
We witnessed the number of signatures and friends sharing his story steadily grow, day by day. The petition crossed 10 thousands signatures yesterday and this shows how much of an impact Ahmed has had in the lives of the community he lives in. People all over the world joined and we made sure to inform him of what was going on. He kept us up to date about his situation.
On the 27th of December, Joe and I went to Morton Hall, the infamous detention centre where four people died in the last year, one of them less than a month ago. The place is effectively a prison camp, with huge fences and barbed wire. Locks on each door and thorough searches on the visitors. Joe and I agreed this was no place for a student who has already gone through so much in his life.
When we met him, Ahmed looked really tired and ill. He told us about the sleepless nights, in fear of the officers barging in to “check” on him with their flashlight in his face. Or the screams of the detainees being dragged away for deportation.
He also revealed he was deeply thankful for the help received by the friends, refugee associations and all the signees. In his own words “my only hope in this hopeless place”.
It has been a very unusual Christmas for Ahmed and for all of his supporters but we all received a late present: on the 28th of December Ahmed was released on a temporary basis, subject to detention and deportation with no guarantee to continue his studies. He went straight to his uncle and had a well deserved night of sleep. His release means the world to us, knowing one of our best friends is not locked up and treated like a criminal made us incredibly happy.
But we need to remember his release is temporary and his status is still uncertain. Our petition will continue in the hopes that Ahmed’s release becomes permanent and we would appreciate if the parties involved kept working together constructively.
Ahmed’s solicitors have submitted the paperwork for his case and we really hope the Home Office can recognise him as an asset to the country instead of a threat.
Let’s make 2018 a turning point in the life of a truly decent man who has carried burdens none of us will ever know.