Mustafa came as a teenager, but still faces deportation

HE started by hiding under a blanket in a lorry and hopes one day to wield a dentist’s drill. It’s not the screenplay of Marathon Man, but the adventurous life of Mustafa, an Afghan who has become a Dubliner.
The 22-year-old came to Ireland as an unaccompanied minor seeking asylum when he was 15, having left Afghanistan in a hurry, along with his family.

Somewhere along the way — he thinks it was either in Iran or Turkey — his family went in one direction, and he kept going in the other. Travelling in a succession of lorries over three months or more, he arrived at an unknown destination: Dublin.

"The whole situation was very different," Mustafa says in an accent more Artane — where he lived for a number of years — than Afghan.

The number of unaccompanied minors seeking asylum peaked in 2001 at more than 1,000, but while the numbers have declined in recent years, that is not to say that those children are not still in the asylum system.

Mustafa, for one, has gone from arriving in Ireland without a word of English, to spending 18 months in a hostel for unaccompanied minors, to a foster care placement in Artane, which completely turned his life around.

He describes the months after his arrival in Ireland as "a traumatic time", trying to learn English while undergoing interviews, with no documentation and an assessment process which included repeat blood tests and skins samples. It manifested itself in lashing out at those around him.

"I was in a bit of violence. When you are unhappy, when you are frustrated, you take it out with fighting and breaking stuff."

This ultimately resulted in him taking part in a hunger strike by 41 Afghan asylum seekers at St Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin, something he sees as a youthful indiscretion, carried out by a less mature version of himself.

After the hostel setting, he moved in with his foster family and their children. It resulted in a dramatic change of fortune.

"It worked after two or three months because I barely talked to them," he says. "It’s natural. You need to settle down until you get to know people."

It has worked well. His new parents helped him integrate into the family and a local school, where the HSE had been happy for him to continue going to school in south Dublin when he had moved north.

"You feel welcomed. You can see hope and you can see another way," he says. when he was doing his Leaving Certificate at age 19, the HSE told him he had to move out and into direct provision. His foster mother calmly intervened so that at the very least Mustafa was able to finish his exams before moving to the centre on Francis St in the inner city.

"I am not a normal kid so I will take responsibility for my own life," he says, outlining how his foster family have still played an active role in helping him undertake short education courses while he awaits the chance to enter university, something which cannot happen until his status has been regularised.

Despite being in Ireland for seven years and the fact that he has not been able to trace his family, he still faces the possibility of deportation over what he terms "copy and pasted" decisions made by the asylum authorities when he was younger.

"I cannot be a good citizen if I move back to Afghanistan, the way I am now," he says, referring to how living in Ireland has "modernised" him and his outlook on life.

"You have to be optimistic, and you have to be realistic."

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