Most teenagers look forward to their 18th birthdays. But not Ahmer Rana. When he turns 18 tomorrow he knows that he will soon receive a visit from immigration officials.
They have vowed to send the Welsh teenager back to Pakistan, despite the fact that the British Red Cross can no longer locate his parents and claims that a family feud would endanger his life should he return.
Yesterday, Ahmer and supporters from his home in Carmarthen traveled to London to hand a petition to the Home Office, calling on the Government to halt his imminent deportation.
Flanked by school friends, teachers and his local MP, the 17-year-old called on the Home Office not to return him to a country with which he has little, if any, connection. "If I knew when my parents sent me away that I would end up in a different country and never see them again I would never have left," he told The Independent. "But that was not my decision, it was made for me."
Like so many young teenagers from abroad, Ahmer was forced into taking a perilous journey halfway across the world at the hands of people smugglers paid by his parents. He arrived in Britain at 14 and was sent straight to immigration officials in Croydon.
With no relatives in the UK and his parents missing, he was settled in south-west Wales where his school and foster parents say he has thrived, learning English, which he now speaks fluently with a Welsh accent.
But after losing a series of tribunals he is due to be sent back, even though none of his family can be located. He also claims his parents sent him to Britain to avoid a violent family feud in which he would be caught up. Many of his supporters have contrasted his plight with that of Aso Mohammed Ibrahim, a 33-year-old Iraqi Kurd, who killed a 12-year-old girl in a hit and run accident, but last week successfully challenged an attempt to deport him.
Ibrahim was allowed to stay in Britain, despite a string of criminal convictions, because he had fathered two children. A court ruled that any deportation would breach his right to a "private and family life" under Article 8 of the Human Rights Act.
John Hillard, Ahmer's foster father, said he was furious that tribunals were keeping people like Ibrahim in the country but deporting others like Ahmer. "What about Ahmer's right to a family life?" he asked. "The Red Cross can't locate his family in Pakistan. Ahmer has a family here in the UK and yet they want to deprive him of that."
Under international human rights treaties, Britain must school and house unaccompanied children until they are 18. They are then given indefinite leave to remain, or deported.
Each year about 3,000 children under the age of 18 arrive in Britain on their own to claim asylum, with the largest numbers coming from conflict areas such as Iraq, Afghanistan and Somalia.
What people smugglers rarely tell parents or their victims is that children are routinely denied asylum, with as little as one in 10 allowed to remain in the country.
A spokesperson from the UK Border Agency said: "Mr Rana's claim was turned down by the UK Border Agency and then by an appeal court, where a judge found that elements of his case were inconsistent and that he had failed to show that he faces persecution in Pakistan."Reuse content