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Indep: Happy birthday. We are throwing you out of Britain

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Old February 23rd, 2005, 08:40 AM
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Default Indep: Happy birthday. We are throwing you out of Britain

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

By James Blake and Terry Kirby

23 February 2005

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

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

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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