'They said because I shaved I must be a grown man' - Refugee Council
July 1, 2015

‘They said because I shaved I must be a grown man’

In the last five years, we’ve secured the release of over 120 children who had wrongly been thrown behind bars alongside adults in immigration removal centres. Fawad* was just one of the children we’ve helped. This is his story.

I left Iraq because I did not feel safe. My name is Fawad and none of my family are alive. They were killed in the war that came to our village and left many people dead. I fled the country with a friend, hoping to find a better life and a place of safety. I am fifteen years old.

My journey here was not an easy one; my friend and I were separated along the way. I didn’t know where I was or where I was going, I only knew I could never go back. Immigration officers found me in Dover. They immediately detained me because in their opinion I looked like I was over 18. I tried to explain that I was only a child but they didn’t listen. They said because you shave you must be a grown man. I did not know what was going on and I was not given a chance to prove my age.

The detention centre was a scary place. There were huge grey buildings inside tall metal fences. A wall surrounded it and I could not see anything beyond the detention centre walls. You had to walk within certain lines around the premises and had to be accompanied by an officer when you left your cell. It was cold. I barely slept. I was afraid; there were so many adults of all ages speaking many different languages and I felt so isolated.

On the second day, a Children’s Adviser from the Refugee Council came to see me. We met in a room and he explained that he would help get me out of this place. He used an interpreter over the phone, it was a joy to hear my own dialect and I began to feel hopeful. When he had to go I was scared because I was alone again, but by the third day I was released.

Once released, I was moved to a place where lots of people were living. The Adviser from the Refugee Council explained to me that I would be staying here temporarily while they got to the bottom of the age issue. Only adults lived in here. I did not feel safe. The place was dirty and dark. I often felt anxious and jumpy in this place. I just wanted to be around people my own age.

It took six months of hard work by the Refugee Council and the solicitor they had found me to finally get an age assessment. What kept me going during that period, why I did not run away or worse, was that I could ring the Refugee Council and visit their office and hang out with other young people. I made friends who understood my situation and encouraged me to stay hopeful.

When the Refugee Council called to say I had a date for my assessment I was overjoyed. But I was anxious because I knew it was not the end. The assessment lasted three days and I had to recount a lot of difficult experiences from my past.

I am finally continuing my life as a child. My age was accepted and I have now enrolled in college. I have friends my age, some from the Refugee Council and some new ones from school. I visit the Refugee Council frequently to see those who helped me when I was in a desperate place. I do not like to think what would have happened if they had not been there to help me.

We know there will be more children wrongly imprisoned in adult detention centres. Click here to help us free them.