Missing – my friend

392px-141100_-_Athletics_wheelchair_racing_racers_from_above_2_-_3b_-_2000_Sydney_race_photoI didn’t know what to do when my friend phoned to say he was in prison and that one of his legs had been amputated. He apologised for not contacting me sooner, telling me that someone from outside had just given him a phone with enough credit to call me.

When Timur arrived in the UK he was an Olympic athlete coming to represent his country at a Paralympics Committee event. He still had both legs but needed arm-stirrups to get about.

Shortly after arrival his stirrups broke and a fellow disabled person gave him an old “transit style” wheelchair. The wheelchair was missing the foot supports and the front wheels slipped out of their tubes. Without the foot supports, Timur’s legs dragged under his chair wherever he went.

Timur wheeled himself away from the committee and claimed asylum in the UK following persecution in his home country.

I met him in Bradford where the wheelchair was particularly disastrous on the notoriously bumpy and uneven York Stone pavements. Timur fell out of his chair onto the street on a daily basis, and often had to get out of his chair and crawl into inaccessible buildings.

He was sent to a house that was considered wheelchair accessible but there was no ramp to the door. The housing manager returned the next day to construct a wooden ramp, but in spite of this, the driveway was so steep that Timur was unable to leave the house if it snowed or became icy. I often had to go to Timur’s house to help get him from place to place, and I witnessed the hardships he went through as he tried to accomplish the simple task of getting to the city centre.

I was supporting Timur as a networker for Stepping Stones while he was going through the process of claiming asylum. I was surprised that he was getting no support from his solicitor. She had moved to another office without leaving details of how to contact her. This caused huge panic when Timur’s asylum claim was rejected and he had just 10 days to lodge an appeal.

I left messages and went to the solicitor’s office several times to complain that the solicitor hadn’t followed up with either myself or Timur. Finally, she called and explained that she had been busy and simply told me that a new solicitor would file his appeal.

I accompanied Timur to visit the new solicitor. This solicitor was very cold to Timur and clearly lacked understanding of what life is like for a disabled person in Central Asia.

As a member of the Paralympic Committee, Timur had lived in a flat provided by the government. When the president was ousted, score-settlers and land-squatters had been threatening to remove him from this state-provided flat, or kill him outright.

The solicitor went over the points made in the rejection to his claim, which centred on his lack of evidence and discrepancies in his interview. The solicitor read that when asked who provided his flat, Timur had given the name of the president – as the head of the state.

The solicitor asked, “If the president was your friend, then how could your life be in danger? Couldn’t you go to him?”

Timur couldn’t help but laugh.

Timur’s appeal was rejected, and on the very last day he was able to file another appeal, the solicitors sent Timur a letter indicating that they were dropping him. Unfortunately no other solicitor would file a fresh claim on his behalf. Timur was apprehended at St. Luke’s Hospital and promptly deported before he was able to file a fresh claim.

When asylum seekers are forcibly deported or opt for voluntary return, people back in the UK almost never hear what happens after they arrive in their country of origin.

That was the case with Timur – until the phone call I had no news from him. It was months later that he managed to contact me from inside a prison. He has been picked up by the police immediately upon arrival and given a five year sentence for trying to leave the country. Due to health problems, one of his legs was amputated rather than treated properly.

If it hadn’t been for that borrowed phone I’d never had heard from him.

Unfortunately, the phone call has left me speechless and unable to help. I wish there was a happy ending but all I’m left with is uncertainty and no way of knowing what has happened to my missing friend.

Daniel

Peter Richardson

Peter Richardson

Peter is a freelance writer and former director of Leeds Asylum Seekers' Support Network. Find him on twitter @viewsofworld

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