Context: Like many within the Birch community, last month I discovered that Nas Popalzia had been granted Leave to Remain, for 5 years as a refugee! A long-awaited achievement which took a collaborative effort from Nas, his befriender Jane Thakoordin ;and dedicated individuals from ASIRT and Migrant Voice networks. In a time where the Home Office’s decisions are undoubtedly questionable; I thought it crucial to sit down with Nas and Jane in order to share their story of success and great friendship.
From being in their presence for a few minutes, I naturally assumed that they had been good friends for years. To my surprise, Nas and Jane had only met in July last year. They met when Nas was sharing his story for the first time in front of an audience, at the Ikon gallery in Birmingham, for Refugee Week. Regardless of this, both of them agreed that it felt as though they had known each other for a lot longer. Jane who attended the event with her husband Paul, mentioned that “What was so powerful about that event was, it was an event for Migrant week. And people were asked to come along and talk about their involvement in organisations that support refugees/ asylum seekers…. then of course Nas got up … and Nas told his story… Nas was the exact epitome of all the things people were talking about. He was the face of those people. Not a distant person”.
When deciding to start his campaign Nas came across infamous stories of the Windrush generation. Nas felt encouraged to share his story and stand up against injustice due to the way the windrush generation had been treated. Nas got in contact with Migrant Voice and they began to support Nas throughout his campaign. In particular, Nas said multiple times, that he is grateful for the support and friendship of Salman Mirza from Migrant Voice.
Prior to speaking at the Ikon, Nas tells me that he wasn’t in a good place at that time. Roughly in March/ April of last year Nas had been refused asylum. From my understanding this was the sixth time (yes six!) that Nas had been wrongfully refused. “I didn’t know what was happening, it was hurting me and those people (the Home Office) saying that there is a law in this country, but the law doesn’t apply to them”. Rightfully, Nas feared leaving his friends behind and the life that he had built in Birmingham. “All I know is here”. Born in a small village called Urozgan, North of Kandahar in Afghanistan. Nas lived in Kabul for three months when his mother handed him to a smuggler. He could speak the language but Nas could not write or read. He didn’t know anyone and he was worried about getting work. Since coming to the UK, as a minor, age 14, Birmingham has been Nas’ home.
A significant factor as to why Jane decided to support Nas is because she discovered that he is only a month older than her eldest daughter – Nas turned 23 on February 1st. “If the situation had been different, if it had been her (Jane’s daughter) in the situation; coming to a new country with a whole different set of difficulties and challenges. I would wish that there would be somebody like me looking out for her”. Eventually, Jane and her husband began befriending Nas through Birch, whilst helping him run his campaign.
Jane has been involved with Birch for several years having previously befriended a young Iranian man. She has also been able to use her experience as a befriender to train others who have shown an interest in befriending. Jane is also a freelance artist and a part-time mental health social worker. Though Jane’s family background has been in advocating against social injustices. Furthermore, Nas mentions that it was Jane who suggested that he should volunteer at Birch’s Meet and Greet project. He now regularly volunteers at the sessions: he helps bring newly arrived asylum seekers from a nearby hostel (initial accommodation centre) to the Meet and Greet, where lunch and activities are hosted. Nas can also speak several languages including Pashto therefore he acts as translator for those coming from the hostel who cannot speak english.
We began discussing the campaign, both Jane and Nas were keen on emphasising that it was a collaborative effort. Jane affirmed that the campaign wouldn’t have been successful without the maximum input of everyone involved; “When we all put our skills together, we all worked really brilliantly”. Although, Nas says that in the beginning he had lost his confidence and had been feeling stressed -“I lost hope”. Nas also mentions that at times, during the campaign he felt emotional and it was hard to repeat his story to different audiences. Sometimes Nas would have to speak 3 or 4 times a day and he was required to commute on his own to different venues. He even appealed to different MPs who refused to take action on his behalf because he wasn’t apart of their constituency.
Moreover, Nas touches on the tragic stories that he knows of long-lost friends from the Afghanistan community who had been in the asylum process for so long that they gave up and went ‘underground’. “They end up on the street, with no support and that’s why it’s a kind of punishment. What the guys decide to do is to go underground and work with some criminals”. He further mentions that these individuals will end up getting exploited and employed for as low as £2. Nas had feared that he too would end up in a similar situation. Yet despite this, Nas calmly says that during the campaign he did what he needed to do and what was asked from him. “It was a good experience, I learnt a lot, about the campaign and I actually learnt from people about helping people… It was good, a good campaign”. Jane also recognised that it was hard for Nas at times, she was worried that he may get pulled in different directions for people’s own purposes. Jane believes that is was down to having “a small group of committed people at the core” surrounding Nas during the campaign who enabled him to keep grounded.
Towards the end of the interview, I was curious to know whether Jane felt as though she ever needed to separate campaign life from her personal life. “I think it all just blends in together really. I couldn’t imagine Nas not being a part of our family life, and Nas can come and go when he pleases. I wouldn’t put expectations on him… He’s a part of that family unit”. Jane goes on further to say that Salman Mirza and herself want to make sure that Nas gets the “absolute best out of life” – whatever Nas decides to do in future.
Finally, I asked Jane and Nas, what one thing they admire about each other. Jane responded sincerely “I admire his spirit and personality really, he’s just a very good nice person”. It took Nas a while to respond “If I start now it’s going to take at least one hour”. However, as Jane stepped out the room, he continued “If I could give her a Nobel Peace Prize award, I would give her one, to Jane and Salman. Whatever they can do they will do for you”.
A big thank you to Nas and Jane for letting me interview them and write this blog piece. I know if we’d gone into more detail, I could probably write a book about their experiences. Congratulations to Nas for getting his stay!
Also congratulations to end deportations, Stansted 15! https://freedomnews.org.uk/breaking-no-jail-for-stansted-15/?fbclid=IwAR1580N7nIFh8liNSup0MW8GreO7Wq6EzcLEz7g1EXE5qAhAAMe0msyZ8xE