Illegal immigrant who lived in tent conquers France as chess champion


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The Independent Online

When he arrived illegally in France from Bangladesh aged seven, Fahim Mohammad was just another pawn in the great game of emigration and asylum-seeking.

His father was refused temporary papers, and he and Fahim spent some time living in a tent in a Paris suburb.

Jump forward four years and Fahim, now 11, will travel to the Czech Republic next month as the reigning French junior chess champion and a contender in the junior section of the European chess championship.

At first, it seemed Fahim would not be able to travel to Prague. He had no valid papers and could not leave France. Stalemate. But the former prime minister François Fillon intervened in May to obtain temporary residence and work papers for Fahim's father, Nura Alam. Fahim received a "temporary travel document for a foreign minor".

The new centre-left French government has now confirmed the decision, and Fahim's place in the French team was confirmed this week. Although he remains a Bangladeshi citizen, he will represent France in the European championship from 16 to 26 August.

"At first, I thought that this was all a dream but it's true," Fahim said. "My father and I can now live in peace. I will not forget all the people who have helped me."

Fahim began playing chess at five. His exceptional talent – likely to take him to grandmaster status – was recognised when his father entered him in an under-20s chess tournament soon after they arrived in France.