Article by Netty Miles.
We first met Naz, aged 16, on our second trip to the Dunkirk camp, when it was still a rat ridden, mud filled bog on the edge of French suburbia. The living conditions were stated as one of the worst in any refugee camp in the world by the UNHCR, and they should know.
Naz was sheltering in the makeshift school, which was one of the very few building-like structures in the camp, due to police restrictions on shelters being built. There must have been some attraction in the respite from the January rain outside, but Naz was also using his time wisely by learning to read, in English. It was a very slow start for him. He explained to us that as a young boy in Iraq he had not been able to go to school as his mother was alone and needed him to work to support her. He had never learned to read in his native language. Naz was painstakingly reading out of an English children’s story book and although his pronunciation was good, he did not understand the words he was reading.
Over the following six months I made sure that I visited Naz every time I went back to the camps. He moved to the new camp built by MSF and the local Mayor, which was better and more hygienic, but still a dead end place. His English was basic but improving, and as we drank tea together it was always lovely to chat a little. However I was worried about the influences of some of the less principled men in camp, because Naz did not have any family either in camp or back in Iraq – no one to receive a call from or to be concerned about his welfare.
It was a dangerous place for anyone to be, with little respite from the weather, let alone for an unaccompanied minor.
So I was thrilled to hear that Naz was in the UK by the end of this summer. His asylum claim went well and now he is living in sheltered accommodation just outside London with a group of boys from other countries including the UK. He has started college and I almost fell over laughing to hear the new turns of conversational phrase that he’s picked up from his peers there.
He has a year of English and Maths to do at college before he can specialise – at the moment he’s very keen on the hairdressing trade and his always immaculate appearance gives me confidence that he’ll be good at it. He is also attracting some attention from the girls – it’s such a lovely thing to see him at last doing the kind of things that any normal teenager should be able to do. He’s gaining confidence all the time.
Naz has his own room and there is wifi at his house. He’d love to be able to do some of his college work at home, research careers and of course use social media and listen to music. A laptop would connect him to his new life in a very important way.