Happy birthday. We are throwing you out of Britain

His mother was shot dead for her political beliefs. So was his father. He was looked after by foster parents in London until he turned 18. Then he was locked up so that he can be 'dumped' abroad. Soon we'll be doing this to 16-year-olds...
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The Independent Online

He could be any teenager, relaxing in a London park, wearing his favourite football shirt, but last night Blerim Mlloja was in a detention centre awaiting deportation to Albania, a country he considers foreign and where he believes his life would be in danger.

He could be any teenager, relaxing in a London park, wearing his favourite football shirt, but last night Blerim Mlloja was in a detention centre awaiting deportation to Albania, a country he considers foreign and where he believes his life would be in danger.

Two weeks ago, Mr Mlloja, not long turned 18, took a day off school, put on his smartest clothes and went to the Home Office's immigration directorate in Croydon. He thought it was one of his routine, regular meeting with officials.

His foster mother, Mary Watts, who has looked after him for three years, waved him off from their home in south London. She had no reason to worry. Instead, he never came back, and Mrs Watts, sick with worry, has not seen him since.

For, as the Government trumpeted its apparent success yesterday in reducing the number of asylum-seekers applying to stay in this country, the tale of Mr Mlloja highlights the reality faced by many young people living here. Unaccompanied child asylum-seekers deemed at risk are often accepted at first but once they turn 18 they are sent back. Soon, in a pilot scheme, the age limit is likely to be dropped to 16 for asylum-seekers from Albania, a country deemed to be safe.

While yesterday's figures did show a reduction in the number of asylum applications, they also showed that the number of failed claimants being deported is falling. That helps to fuel the political and media furore, and, in turn, means the Home Office is intensifying its efforts to remove easy targets, such as Mr Mlloja.

Clive Efford, the Labour MP for Eltham, who has taken up the case, said: "Outside the current climate of hysteria over immigration, Blerim might have been looked on more sympathetically. To say he can build a life here, to be taken into the heart of a foster family and then told 'you're 18 now - so you must go' is unfair. It doesn't take into account the individual cases".

When he arrived at the immigration offices Mr Mlloja was arrested by officials and sent to a detention centre near Heathrow, pending deportation. He has been held there while Mrs Watts and lawyers fight a desperate rearguard action. They argue that Mr Mlloja, both of whose parents were shot dead in separate incidents, knows no other home. They fear his life would be in danger if he was "dumped" back on the streets of Albania. He was beaten up by police before managing to reach this country three years ago.

Mrs Watts, aged 66, of Eltham, said yesterday: "This is his home and we are his family now. He's got no one, and nowhere else to go. He is settled here and has an English girlfriend. He should not be made to leave.

"It was very cruel the way they took him. It's like he was kidnapped. They tricked us and they didn't even phone me to tell me."

Mr Mlloja's mother was shot dead in Tirana, the Albanian capital, when Blerim was three years old. She was involved in the anti-Communist uprisings. His father, a bodyguard for a leading democratic politician, put his son into a children's home. When he was 12, one of his father's friends came to tell him he too had been killed. He was murdered alongside the politician he was protecting.

After that, Blerim was arrested twice and beaten up by officers who wanted information about his parents. His father's friend helped him to escape to Britain at the age of 15.

While living with Mrs Watts in Eltham for the past three years, he has been attending a local school and was among a number of local teenage asylum-seekers who took part in a film, funded by Channel 4, called Birthday Boy. It addresses the precise predicament he finds himself in now.

The film was shown last autumn, around the time the Home Office rejected his application to stay in this country after he turned 18. Because of a mix-up, his solicitor failed to lodge an appeal, allowing the Home Office to detain him once his birthday passed on 1 December. Although Mr Mlloja has spent the last two weeks believing deportation was imminent, his lawyers succeeded yesterday in their application for a judicial review of the case, delaying deportation for a few weeks. But he remains in custody and, despite the glimmer of hope, few have succeeded in overturning the Home Office's decision.

Since arriving in Britain, Mr Mlloja has had regular sessions with John Barcroft, a child psychiatrist. Dr Barcroft wrote a report for the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture, arguing that he should not be deported for health reasons.

Dr Barcroft said: "It's quite crazy to keep people in this country and then ship them back as soon as they turn 18. He grew up in a children's home where he was not allowed to go out and was under constant threat. Everyone should have some sort of childhood. Here, at last, he's found someone who can parent him."

Mrs Watts said: "I was just given him to look after - as a son and he calls me 'mum' now. I was never told that he'd be taken from me. He's such a lovely boy and there is a big bond between us. He's got a home here with brothers and sisters and they all love him too.'

"He has been reluctant to make too many plans but his experience with the film encouraged him to think he might have a future as an actor."

Mr Mlloja is forbidden to have visitors at Colnbrook detention centre, but he is allowed to use the phone. He said: "It is like a prison here. I keep getting panic attacks. I've seen people try to kill themselves and I have thought about it too. And it's so cold, I keep asking the officers for extra blankets, but they tell me no.".

James Blake is a home affairs producer for Channel 4 News

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