By Zabiullah*. This piece originally appeared on at the link here.


‘You will be moved to the Bibby Stockholm, Portland.’

As soon as I read these words earlier this month in a letter addressed to me from the Home Office, I immediately began to panic.

I had been dreading receiving this notice ever since the Government first announced its plan to move asylum seekers onto the engineless barge in April. How could anyone think a giant floating prison housing vulnerable and traumatised people is a good idea?

Three protesters with signs including "COMPASSION WITHOUT BORDERS" and "NO FLOATING PRISONS".

Protesters in Oxford demonstrate against proposed barge transfers (37.07.23)

War and conflict is no stranger to me.

I have lived in the shadow of the Taliban in Afghanistan all my life. In fact, I recall being as young as five years old and being terrified that they’d hurt me or my family.

So when I got offered a scholarship to study a civil engineering university course abroad, I took it. After several years, I came back to my home country and started working with the United Nations, helping to build local infrastructure in Kabul.

I later joined a company that had several contracts with NATO, establishing things like rehabilitation centres for people living with disabilities, as well as projects to undermine the terrorist organisation in the country.

I was in this role when the US pulled out of Afghanistan and then the Taliban took back power of the country in August 2021. As you can imagine, I was immediately terrified I could be tortured and killed.

I had to flee the country, but I didn’t want to raise suspicion by immediately trying to leave so I waited in hiding for a few months. Within this time, there were house-to-house raids, which meant I had to move around in order not to be caught.

Thankfully, I managed to secure a visa for Pakistan, so – after a long process – I was able to leave the country. Packing up my life and having to leave Afghanistan brought up a mix of emotions – from sadness to relief.

I stayed in Pakistan for over six months, but then I started to hear of Afghans being captured and taken back home or killed on the spot. So, in desperation, I applied for a temporary student visa in countries across Europe – including Germany and the UK – and was relieved to be able to fly out to the latter at the end of last year.

I genuinely didn’t know I had to apply for asylum as soon as I landed at the airport. To claim asylum, I thought I had to go to an immigration office and fill forms like at visa centres. I was also dealing with long-term sciatica and kidney conditions, which got worse when I came to the UK and delayed my asylum claim for a couple of weeks.

Then in January this year, I had my initial meeting with the Home Office to present my case for asylum. This is where I was declared illegal and liable to deportation because I was told that my intention was to claim asylum, but didn’t mention it to the immigration officer at the airport and entered as a student.

They served me with a one-stop notice, which means I had the opportunity to concede their decision or appeal it. I knew I could potentially be deported to Rwanda.

Panicked, I suddenly remembered I had been told about an organisation called Asylum Welcome, which offers information, advice and practical support to asylum seekers, refugees and vulnerable migrants. So I reached out to them as soon as I could and they were very supportive.

Three days later, they ended up putting me in touch with a solicitor to help me plan my appeal. For months, we worked together to build my case and, although I was still feeling depressed about my whole situation, I was also hopeful that I’d be able to stay in the UK.

Then the Home Office sent me that letter this month to say I was being moved to the Bibby Stockholm the next morning – and my hope turned to despair. I was very afraid.

Even though the letter says it ‘is not detention accommodation’, it feels cruel and inhumane to treat people this way. Human rights groups like Amnesty International UK and Care4Calais agree.

So I contacted my solicitor, who immediately reassured me that they would challenge this decision – on medical grounds, with the help of my GP.

Thankfully, I wasn’t moved onto the barge. I was especially thankful about this because, just days after the first asylum seekers arrived on the boat, they had to be evacuated due to finding legionella – the cause of legionnaires’ disease – on the vessel.

How can they be so careless about human beings in desperate need for compassion? I am very disappointed and feel like we are not being treated well at all.

If I’m forced onto the barge, I don’t even know how I’ll cope. In fact, I’d rather sleep on the street than be there.

I don’t know what my immediate future holds because the Government changes its plans for asylum seekers regularly.

All I know is that, if I’m forced back to Afghanistan, I’ll surely be killed for my work with NATO. Please try to imagine how heavily this uncertainty would weigh on you.

As told to James Besanvalle and originally published on here.

*The name of the author has been changed to protect their identity.