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Former England Boxer brings test case to end immigration limbo for victims of modern slavery and wins 16 year battle to stay in the UK

Related Member(s):
Zoe McCallum, Chris Buttler
Related Practice Area(s):
Immigration, Asylum and Free Movement

The former England boxer Kelvin Bilal Fawaz has won his 16-year legal battle to live and work in the UK after the Home Office granted him leave to remain for 30 months following his test case aimed at ending immigration limbo for victims of modern slavery in the United Kingdom.

Bilal was born in 1988 in Nigeria, trafficked to the UK in 2004 at the age of 14 and has resided here since: Almost 16 years and all of his adult life. On escaping his traffickers he was taken into Local Authority care as an unaccompanied minor. He fell in with a “bad crowd” and in his teenage years obtained a string of petty criminal convictions, none resulting in a custodial sentence. He began a promising career in boxing and turned his life around, rising through the ranks eventually to represent England. In 2012 and 2016 Bilal was chosen for the Team Great Britain Olympics Boxing Squad, but precluded from joining it because he lacked valid leave. In 2014 he was offered a multi-thousand pound contract by boxing promoter Frank Warren but could not accept it because without status, he was ineligible to work.

The Home Office repeatedly refused Bilal’s successive immigration applications to regularise his status owing to his “character, conduct and associations” (a reference to his petty criminal offending) and appeals against them were dismissed on the incorrect pretext that he was removable to Nigeria. Though born in Nigeria, Bilal is not Nigerian. His father and mother (with whom he has had no contact since childhood) were Lebanese and Beninese respectively and he has never visited Benin or Lebanon. In the last three years, the Home Office twice took Bilal into immigration detention to effect his removal, only to release him on evidence that the Nigerian authorities refuse to accept he is a national.

When he was taken into immigration detention for a second time in 2019, Duncan Lewis came on the record and instructed Zoe McCallum to advise on his NRM, statelessness and Article 8 claims. In November 2019, the Home Office finally formally recognised Bilal as a victim of human trafficking and modern slavery, 15 years on from his ordeal.

At the same time, however and whilst his Article 8 application was pending, the Home Office refused Bilal discretionary leave to remain as a victim of trafficking (“ECAT leave”). Duncan Lewis instructed Chris Buttler and Zoe McCallum to judicially review that refusal and Bilal used his case as a vehicle to bring a wider challenge aimed at ending immigration limbo for all confirmed victims of trafficking, which operates to bar survivors from the right to work, access mainstream benefits, forces them to live under constant threat of removal and inhibits their psychological recovery from modern slavery.

Following the judicial review, the Home Office withdrew its decision, offered to pay Bilal’s legal costs and undertook to make a fresh decision on his entitlement to ECAT leave. Bilal was then again refused ECAT leave on a second occasion and undeterred, brought a second judicial review on the same basis. Ten days after issuing that second claim, the Home Office expedited Bilal’s Article 8 application and granted him leave to remain – ending his 16 year long battle to regularise his status.

Bilal is now recommencing his boxing career and speaking out on behalf of the thousands of children taken into care in the UK who are left without status as adults. Instructed by Duncan Lewis, Zoe and Chris have today issued another claim for judicial review on behalf of a confirmed victim of trafficking, again a test case to end immigration limbo for victims of modern slavery.

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