Awais Raza isn’t sure how old he is. He barely remembers anything from his early years, or perhaps he blocks it out. What the Afghan national does know is that his father, mother, and sister were killed when he was very young. And he was subsequently taken to a children’s home – but what he describes sounds more like a prison.
“They would tell me to work. ‘Clean the house, take this rubbish, take this bag here,’” says Awais, wincing at the memory. “They told me to go outside and take this bag, small and big bags and would tell me to take it somewhere. If I didn’t do it they would beat me, or burn my feet. They were treating me like this for a long time, doing these things to me.”
He parts his hair to reveal a long scar embedded into his scalp. Before pushing down his socks to reveal burns on his ankles and feet.
Around 15 years on, the Afghan national sits on a bench in east London. He arrived in the UK nearly a decade ago. After an “uncle” – the term he uses for older men of his nationality. Helped him escape the violence, labor exploitation and sexual abuse he was subjected to for most of his childhood. He has since been saved from his exploiters but faced a different challenge. The battle for protection from the Home Office.