A boxing champion who has represented England six times has been arrested and locked in an immigration detention centre, pending deportation to Nigeria, a country that has said it won’t allow him to live there as he is not a citizen.
Kelvin Fawaz, London’s current middleweight boxing champion, has been in the UK for 15 years, since he was a child. He is a gifted amateur boxer whom Team GB wanted to represent Britain in the 2012 and 2016 Olympics, writing twice to the Home Office on his behalf.
Fawaz realised his talent despite, as a child, being brought from his home in Nigeria to the UK where he was abandoned and forced into domestic slavery. He has not been allowed to take up a place on Team GB because the Home Office has repeatedly refused to issue him a work visa.
Although the Nigerian government has rejected his applications for a passport and he holds no other, his application to be considered stateless has been rejected by the government.
“Kelvin is a terrifically, tremendously talented young man who has helped my fighter Josh Taylor get ready for a couple of fights,” said promoter and former boxing world champion Barry McGuigan. “Kelvin has the capacity to go far: he’s already brought glory to England many times and could go even further for this country if he was allowed by the Home Office to become a Team GB fighter, as they want him to be. Kelvin’s got a great personality. He ticks all the boxes.”
Fawaz, 29, has been trying to establish his nationality since the period of discretionary leave he was granted as a child expired when he turned 18. He has repeatedly written to the high commissions in Nigeria as well as Benin and Lebanon, the birthplaces of his parents.
However, the Home Office has rejected evidence that Fawaz collected and it has repeatedly delayed taking key decisions. It took four years to rule on an application he made in 2006 and another four to rule on an appeal he made in 2010.
Some of the biggest names in boxing have repeatedly appealed to the Home Office. Frank Warren, the English boxing manager and promoter, wrote to the Home Office in 2014 praising Fawaz’s “exceptional talent” and offering him a three-year contract during which he guaranteed he would “comfortably gross” at least £230,000.
The Amateur Boxing Association has written to the Home Office five times in recent years, asking for Fawaz to be given travel documents and a work visa. Manager Steve Goodwin has offered him a three-year contract. His local Hayes MP John McDonnell has also appealed to the authorities on his behalf.
But the Home Office has refused to issue Fawaz with the permission to work while they make a decision on his status, leaving him unable to fight for the country he calls home or to earn money, forcing him to clean the toilets in his local gym in exchange for accommodation and food.
Last week, eight plainclothes policemen and two uniformed officers found Fawaz as he trained in his local gym, arrested him and took him to Wembley police station before transferring him to Tinsley House detention centre.
Fawaz had failed to report to the immigration reporting centre three times in recent months because he is suffering from depression, for which he is receiving treatment. Instead of visiting him at his registered address or contacting his nominated lawyers, however, the Home Office decided to detain him and begin the process of deporting him.
“We had no idea the Home Office were looking to detain him,” said Fawaz’s lawyer, Aisha Noor from KQ Solicitors. “I fail to understand why they arrested him rather than simply phoning us. We have a letter from his doctor explaining his mental health problems and how ill he was. He was never at risk of absconding.”
Despite the medical evidence, Fawaz remains locked in a cell in the detention centre while the Home Office tries to obtain travel documents so he can go to Nigeria. Frustrated at the delays, Fawaz himself wrote again to the Nigerian high commission, who visited him on Tuesday, and confirmed that they do not recognise him as a national.
“The Home Office have sabotaged my life over and over again,” Fawaz said from his cell in the centre. “They will probably have to release me from here eventually but then what? Without a work permit, they’re still not giving me the tools to survive. If I can’t work, where am I going to live? What am I going to eat?.
“Each opportunity I’ve created for myself would have enabled me to pay taxes and contribute to this country,” he said. “I’m allowed to box for England but I’m not allowed to stay in England. Imagine how it feels to represent a country and then to have that country turn around and put you in what feels like a prison.”
Fawaz’s mother, a resident of Benin who migrated to Nigeria, died when he was eight. The boy was moved around his family in Nigeria until an uncle told him he was being taken to London to live with his father.
On arrival in London at 14, however, he was locked in a house where he was beaten and starved, and forced to cook and clean. “I watched the children of the house go to school and cried,” he remembers. Disoriented by his new surroundings, he does not know who it was that mistreated him. He has never known his father.
Eventually Fawaz escaped and made his way to social services. Despite his abandonment and trauma, he excelled at school, achieving three A grades at A-level. He was accepted by St Mary’s Roehampton university but the offer was withdrawn because the Home Office refused to confirm his immigration status.
Homeless, without family or friends and desperate, Fawaz was given a room in a halfway house. Surrounded by convicted criminals and people with mental health problems, he committed a string of petty crimes, albeit nothing more serious than possession of cannabis and driving without a licence. It is because of these incidents, which occurred between 2007 and 2009, that the Home Office have refused for the past decade to give Fawaz a work visa.
In 2012, Fawaz married his partner of six years, a British citizen. He applied for a spousal visa but the Home Office declared the marriage void because he had married while his immigration status was insecure.
Five years ago, Fawaz met Aamir Ali, the owner of the Stonebridge Boxing Club in north London, and was soon sparring with leading amateurs, including Shane McGuigan, Luke Campbell and Anthony Joshua.
“This is a guy who should be earning millions and he’s cleaning my gym for food and a roof,” said Ali. “He’s not even asking the Home Office for nationality: he just wants a work permit so he can earn a living. He could be a world champion but he’s sitting in a cell with his life disappearing.”
Three years ago, after the Home Office refused to let him represent Great Britain in the Olympics, Fawaz went to the Nigerian embassy to ask them to give him a passport. “I know I have something most people don’t have: dedication, hard work and vision,” he said. “I wanted to take those talents to Nigeria. But they said they wouldn’t have me because there’s no proof I was born there and my mother wasn’t Nigerian. I sent that letter to the Home Office but they ignored it.”
In August 2017, the Home Office turned down an application by Fawaz to be considered stateless. Fawaz says he feels trapped.
“If they can get me a Nigerian passport, then I’ll go to Nigeria,” he said. “But if they can’t get me one, then they have to admit that I’m their son. I’m a product of this country and I could do it proud. It’s all I’ve been trying to do for the last decade but every time I get close, the Home Office block me.”
A Home Office spokesperson said: “When someone has no leave to remain in the UK, we expect them to leave the country voluntarily. Where they do not, we will seek to enforce their departure.”
- The Guardian