Young Bristol City fan’s hopes dashed by cruel government system

A foster father who is fighting to ensure the young man he is caring for is allowed to stay in this country has said the government’s system is ‘cruel’.

John Stokes has said he will continue to fight for Samet, who was trafficked to Britain as a child slave as a teenager, to be able to start his adult life here. Mr Stokes spoke out after the Home Office’s latest appeal decision was a ‘severe blow’ to the family’s hopes that Samet will be allowed to stay.

The Home Office said it would not comment on the case while legal proceedings are ongoing.

Read more: TV star Joe backs young Bristol City fan’s plea to stay in Britain

Nearly half a million people have signed a petition supporting the case of Samet, who has had a horrific childhood since he was 11 when he was taken from his family and forced to beg on the streets of Albania.

Then he was first trafficked as a child in Belgium, before being brought to Bristol by traffickers when he was 15. He ended up being looked after and hosted by Mr Stokes, who hosted over 60 young people from the area. over several decades.

Samet went to school in Bristol and then took a carpentry course at university here – and was the top student before the pandemic hit. Mr Stokes said the government’s system was a ‘cruel’ way of treating hundreds of children who are brought here as modern-day slaves by human traffickers, working against their will in cannabis farms, car washes, nail bars and as sex workers.

If they are saved from this slavery, the children are either looked after or placed in a foster family, and can go to school and then to university.

But as soon as they turn 18, the Home Office is able to deny them the right to stay. Campaign group Every Child Protected Against Trafficking said of 754 children trafficked to Britain in one year, 2019-20, only 17 were allowed to stay.

One of them was a young man called Ali, who was brought up by John Stokes in Bristol, who won awards as a chef and got a job as head chef in a top restaurant at the age of 21 years old.

Mr Stokes said he was only allowed to stay in this country because of this exceptional talent, but the fault of the Home Office is to force trafficked children from places like the Albania to return to the countries they came from.

Mr Stokes said Samet, who is now 20, was initially one of the ‘lucky ones’ as he escaped this slavery and ended up in a foster family with access to education for the first time. “The first two years it was great – he went to school, which he was denied in his country. He went to college, became the top student in his year in carpentry and everything. was fine until he turned 18,” he said.

“And then at 18 you have to apply for permission to stay, it was refused and we have now spent two and a half years in a process of fighting that decision and other decisions since. They allow you to stay until ‘at 18, then you run into the Home Office and they don’t have to give you permission to stay, it’s very rare that it is granted for these children.

“I think they make decisions about politics. Their policy is to turn everyone away,” he said, adding that the case of Ali – who was supported by Bristol residents before being allowed to stay – was “very rare”. Appealing again for support following what could now be the final rejection of an appeal by the Home Office, Mr Stokes said the system had to change.

Read more: Albanian teenager trafficked to UK to answer bail on Christmas Day

“We conform to a system in which the only beneficiaries are the traffickers, because they bring them here. It is not the choice of young people, in general, to come here. This is where they end. They are victims and they should be treated as victims,” he said.

“Having worked in social care for 30 years, there is no other area of ​​childcare where young people are treated with such cruelty as in this hostile environment system of the Home Office. We will still fight. We will continue to fight as long as we can. Obviously, all of this costs money, and I have managed to raise funds to pay so far,” he added.

The options for Samet, who became an ardent Bristol City fan and season ticket holder before the pandemic, and received support from the club and celebrity fans like Joe Sims, are bleak.

John Stokes and his adopted son Samet

“In reality he either returns to Albania where his life is in danger or he flees here,” Mr Stokes said. “I have met young people who have fled here, and they live off the grid. There is no life, because they basically work for people who treat them like slaves.

“When he came here in the first year, he was diagnosed with severe PTSD. This has increased enormously since then, as each decision has been a crushing of hopes. He doesn’t really have any hope now. Yeah, but he doesn’t because he’s run them over so many times.

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“The worst thing is that since he was 18, he hasn’t had a single day where he has been able to behave like an adult – to find a job, or do an apprenticeship, or get a license. drive or do anything.

“His life was put on hold, his classmates went on with their lives.

He was the best student in his year – he watched them for almost two and a half years lead their lives while his was basically stagnating,” he added.

“Since he was 18 he hasn’t had a day where he hasn’t feared for his future,” Mr Stokes said. “My two Albanian boys have become part of my family. At 21, Ali had become a chef and an asset to this country. Samet is almost 21 and just wants to be an asset to this country, rather than the traffickers and gangs that thrive under the cruel regime of Priti Patel,” he added.

Mr Stokes said the Home Office’s latest decision was the worst so far.

“I must have shattered Samet’s dreams when I learned that our last appeal had failed. My belief in justice, humanity and compassion to overcome cruelty is being sorely tested and my energy is not what it used to be,” he said.

The next step in the legal process, which few cases succeed in, is to appeal to the Upper Chamber of the Tribunal.

A Home Office spokesman said: ‘It would be inappropriate to comment while legal proceedings are ongoing.

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