British man sleeping on streets in Europe after being blocked from entering UK

Exclusive: Fatush Lala, who has lived in UK for 20 years with British citizenship, stranded in Brussels after Home Office revokes passport with no warning – rendering him stateless

May Bulman
Social Affairs Correspondent
,Jon Stone
Wednesday 12 February 2020 19:26 GMT
British national stranded in Belgium after his passport was revoked

A British citizen has been blocked from entering the UK after a holiday because the Home Office revoked his passport with no warning – rendering him stateless.

Fatush Lala, 33, who has lived in Britain since the age of 14, was told by border officials as he tried to board a flight home from Brussels airport that he had no right to do so.

Mr Lala, who lives in north London, has now been forced to live on the streets of the Belgian capital for more than three weeks. He says he has been pushed “from pillar to post” as he tries to rectify the situation. The Home Office has not responded to a letter from his MP sent a week ago.

David Lammy, Labour MP for Tottenham, said it was “grossly inhumane” for the government to prevent entry to someone who arrived in Britain as a minor and has called the country his home for the past 20 years.

Mr Lala, who was born in Serbia but moved to the UK as a teenager and naturalised, said he went to the UK embassy in Belgium to seek help, only to be told his British passport – the only one he has ever owned – was no longer valid and have it confiscated from him, leaving him stateless

Mr Lala is currently sleeping rough in Brussels after being blocked from entering the UK (Jon Stone)

He said embassy staff then advised him to go to a charity for homeless refugees, where he waited for seven hours before being told he wasn’t eligible for help because he did not meet the migrant profile.

Describing the moment he was stripped of his passport, Mr Lala told The Independent: “It felt like a nightmare. It hasn’t sunk in properly. I still don’t believe it has happened.

“I’m literally just moving around from place to place. It’s cold. I’ve tried to find warm places in train stations and cafes. There's nothing else I can do. I’ve telephoned everybody and they’re just passing me from pillar to post. I’m just a bit helpless. I don’t know where else I can turn.”

Mr Lala had been travelling back from a holiday in Bulgaria with his wife, who is from the country, on 20 January when he was told he could not board the flight. His wife was able to but she remained with him in Brussels until 31 January – at which point she returned over Brexit fears.

It has since emerged that the Home Office had sent a letter addressed to Mr Lala on 5 December informing him that his passport was being revoked – but it was sent to the wrong address so never reached him.

The letter states that his UK passport “should not have been issued”, on the basis that he naturalised with an identity that “conflicts [his] true identity”. It states that he said he was born in 1986 and born in Serbia, but the Home Office believes he was born in 1985 in Albania.

It provides no explanation as to how the Home Office obtained this information but states that he must not use the document for travel.

Mr Lala first arrived to the UK as a minor after being split from his family during the Serbian conflict. He went into foster care and attended school, college and university in the country, before being granted British citizenship in his early twenties.

“I don’t have a life anywhere else. Where you live is where you build your close ties and relations. A good 20 years of my life I’ve spent there and I’ve had no trouble or anything like that,” Mr Lala said

“I don’t have anything or anybody in Serbia. I don’t think it’s safe for me to be there. That’s why I left. No child of 14 years old would want to leave. It doesn’t happen unless you’re forced to go.”

Why is the Home Office getting so many immigration decisions wrong?

He added: “It’s really unfair the way I’ve been issued this revocation and not followed steps to ensure that I got it. I could have at least had some warning at the airport before leaving to say I might face some trouble coming back. Any reasonable person would expect that.

“There are no words for it. It’s a huge shock, especially coming from a great country like England. It doesn’t seem real.”

Mr Lammy said: “Mr Lala deserves the right to make a legal defence of his British citizenship which was taken away from him with no warning. It is illegal for any country to make its citizens stateless.

“It is grossly inhumane and cruel to do this to someone who arrived in the UK at just 14 years old and has called the UK home for the past twenty years.”

A Home Office spokesperson said the department does not comment on individual cases.

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