Filmmaker Sue Clayton refers to them as ‘secret children’ – the hundreds of child refugees who have arrived on their own in the UK yet face an uncertain future once they reach 18. Protected by laws governing minors they settle into life in Britain, yet once they officially become adults many are deported back to the countries they have fled from. Clayton captures this reality for one young man, Hamedullah Hassany, who finds himself transported from his life in the UK back to Afghanistan where he has little choice but to live on the streets. Having given Hamedullah a camera he documents the struggle of living in a country where he has no family, few friends and no support system.
Hamedullah: The Road Home is one of 6 short films that will show as part of the Human Rights Film Night taking place at Tricycle Theatre on 22 September. The event, hosted by Amnesty International, shines a spotlight on some of the key issues the charity deals with. Sue Clayton spoke to Dazed about how she first came to hear about the issue of child refugees in the UK and the challenging situations that they face.
Dazed Digital: What triggered the making of the film?
Sue Clayton: I had a friend who was working at a London Comprehensive and basically a kid had just turned up at this school and said ‘Can I have an education?’. They said, ‘Who are you? Where have you come from? Have you got parents or a home or anything?’ and he said ‘No I’ve just come from Afghanistan’ and this school was quite shocked. He had been put in some crappy, low rent accommodation and nobody had thought to get him an education.
Just through hearing that anecdote I started asking around because I thought, how weird as a child or teenager to have come from Afghanistan on your own. I found out that a lot of them live in Kent because they arrive in Dover. They come over land, by this process that can take up to a year – scrabbling across, climbing over literally mountains, walking, getting rides in trucks trying to get across borders. I met some who were stuck on what they think must have been an island somewhere near Turkey, where they said there was nothing to eat - they were eating grass! They have these unbelievably heroic journeys to get here. The youngest I ever heard who came on his own was 8 years old.
Dazed Digital: The film highlights the issue that once these children hit 18, most of them are deported, often ending up in a country where there is no support system for them. It’s an issue that many people don’t seem to be aware of…
Sue Clayton: Everyone hears about these kids sort of by accident. If they come into the country on their own they are entitled, because they are children, to a certain amount of protection. There are only a couple of thousand of them a year, so that is why a lot of people don’t hear about them. But the tragic thing is, because their case has never properly been looked at and they probably came in with no evidence, when they are 18 (and as soon as we’re not liable for them anymore) the Home Office has this very strict policy.
The worse thing I think is that they pick them up in what they call dawn raids, they always come for them in the middle of the night. So these kids as they get near 18 they start to be absolutely terrified. At the back of their minds they know there is going to be a knock at the door in the middle of the night and ten guys with Alsatians and handcuffs and guns are going to take them away – it is just insanity.
Dazed Digital: Are you still in contact with Hamedullah? What’s the latest you’ve heard from him?
Sue Clayton: I am, yes. I’m doing a longer term project which is in development with BBC3 on this same topic. What I really want to do is to try and get him somehow or other to college somewhere. This film [Hamedullah: The Road Home] won’t make money but the next film I do, which is probably going to be a drama, if I ever could I’d try… you know he needs to finish his education then he can do what he wants to do which is be self-sufficient. I send him little bits of money but it’s not comfortable when it is charity, he wants to be able to fulfil his promise.
Dazed Digital: What impact do you want the film to have? As well as raising awareness of the issue would you also like to see a change in the law?
Sue Clayton: I work in feature filmmaking but I was drawn back to documentary because I would like to see the law changed but also I was just struck by [these children] as human beings. Hamedullah is like an archetype, I’ve probably met a couple of hundred of those kids now. He had something poetic about him… when he is wandering in the snow and filming his footsteps. I was trying to get away from all the terrible ways the press reports things like the riots, immigrants… it is all just headlines and really you want to be thinking about who these people actually are.
Hamedullah: The Road Home will screen at Human Rights Film Night, 22 Sept, 8:30pm, Tricycle Theatre
More information: www.tricycle.co.uk