I immediately panicked upon reading these words in a letter sent to me by the Home Office earlier this month. Since the Government first announced its plan to transfer asylum seekers onto the engineless barge in April, I had dreaded receiving this notice. How could anyone consider a massive floating prison housing vulnerable and traumatized individuals to be a good idea? War and conflict are no strangers to me.
Throughout my entire life, I have lived in the shadow of the Taliban in Afghanistan. In fact, I can recall being as young as five years old and feeling terrified that they would harm me or my family.
When I was offered a scholarship to study civil engineering abroad, I seized the opportunity. After spending several years away, I returned to my home country and began working with the United Nations, aiding in the construction of local infrastructure in Kabul.
Later on, I joined a company that held multiple contracts with NATO. Our tasks included establishing rehabilitation centers for individuals with disabilities and implementing projects to undermine the terrorist organization in the country.
I was in this position when the US withdrew from Afghanistan and the Taliban regained power in August 2021. Naturally, I was immediately terrified that I could be subjected to torture and execution.
I had to flee the country, but I didn’t want to arouse suspicion by attempting to leave right away, so I remained in hiding for several months. During this time, there were house-to-house raids, forcing me to move constantly in order to avoid being captured.
Luckily, I managed to obtain a visa for Pakistan and, after a lengthy process, I was able to leave the country. The process of packing up my life and departing from Afghanistan left me with mixed emotions, ranging from sadness to relief.
Treating people in this manner feels cruel and inhumane (Picture: BEN STANSALL/AFP via Getty Images)I stayed in Pakistan for over six months, but then I began hearing accounts of Afghans being captured and forcibly repatriated or killed on the spot. In desperation, I applied for temporary student visas in various European countries, including Germany and the UK. I was relieved when I was finally able to fly to the UK at the end of last year.
I genuinely had no knowledge that I had to apply for asylum as soon as I arrived at the airport. I thought I needed to visit an immigration office and complete forms, similar to visa centers. Additionally, I was dealing with chronic sciatica and kidney conditions that worsened upon my arrival in the UK, delaying my asylum claim by a couple of weeks.
In January of this year, I had my initial meeting with the Home Office to present my case for asylum. During this meeting, I was deemed to be illegal and subject to deportation because I was informed that my intention was to seek asylum, but I failed to mention it to the immigration officer at the airport and entered the UK as a student.
They issued me a one-stop notice, granting me the opportunity to either accept their decision or appeal it. I knew that I could potentially be deported to Rwanda.
In a state of panic, I suddenly remembered an organization called Asylum Welcome, which provides information, advice, and practical support to asylum seekers, refugees, and vulnerable migrants. I reached out to them as soon as I could, and they offered me tremendous support.
Three days later, they connected me with a solicitor to assist me in planning my appeal. For months, we collaborated to build a strong case, and although I still felt depressed about my overall situation, I held onto hope that I would be able to remain in the UK.
Then, earlier this month, the Home Office sent me that letter stating that I would be moved to the Bibby Stockholm the following morning, and my hope turned into despair. I was extremely afraid.
People hold up signs and placards to welcome incoming migrants at the Bibby Stockholm (Picture: BEN STANSALL/AFP via Getty Images)Although the letter claims that the Bibby Stockholm is “not detention accommodation,” it feels incredibly cruel and inhumane to treat people in such a manner. Human rights organizations like Amnesty International UK and Care4Calais share this view.
I contacted my solicitor, who promptly reassured me that they would challenge this decision on medical grounds, with the assistance of my general practitioner.
Fortunately, I was not transferred to the barge. I felt particularly grateful for this since, just days after the first group of asylum seekers arrived on the boat, they had to be evacuated due to the discovery of legionella, the cause of legionnaires’ disease, onboard the vessel.
How can they be so negligent when it comes to individuals in desperate need of compassion? I am deeply disappointed and feel that we are not being treated well at all.
If I am forced onto the barge, I do not even know how I will cope. In fact, I would rather sleep on the streets than be there.
I am uncertain about what the immediate future holds for me, as the government frequently changes its plans for asylum seekers.
All I know is that if I am compelled to return to Afghanistan, my work with NATO will surely result in my death. Please attempt to imagine the weight of this uncertainty on your shoulders.
As narrated to James Besanvalle.
*The name of the author has been changed to protect their identity.
Immigration Nation is a series that aims to destigmatize the term “immigrant” and explore the compelling first-person stories of individuals who have arrived in the UK and made it their home. If you have a story you would like to share, email [email protected]
MORE: My heart broke when I had to separate my children from their grandmother – but it was for their own good
MORE: I was imprisoned and tortured in Ethiopia – the UK asylum system feels like another prison
Originally appeared on The Home Office warned I had less than 24 hours to move to the Bibby Stockholm barge