It had been a normal weekend. Until late Sunday afternoon.
And then he didn't arrive home for our very late traditional Sunday lunch.
"He's possibly just got tied up with friends and forgotten that the buses don't run late on a Sunday." Said Hubby.
In the two months that he had been living with us as a teenage foster child, Abdul Qudoos had always managed to get home before the buses "ran out" so to speak. But not on this particular day.
Arriving in England as an Asylum seeker hadn't come without its difficulties. It appears that anyone in danger, for whatever reason, can pay a "people trafficker" to get them out of Afghanistan. The service doesn't come cheap however and so it's not for the fainthearted. They pay something in the region of 12000 euros - to someone who is really little more than a criminal. And for all that money, with mothers often selling their dowries to ensure that their sons have a better or safer life, the families have no guarantee that their children will arrive safely in England, or anywhere else.
All have a "suitable" birth date. This is always on the 1st of January of the relevant year that would make them just under 16. (They don't admit to knowing their actual birthday. They are possibly trained by the people trafficker to sell themselves as being under 16. This was they can be "looked after children", educated, and in with a better chance of asylum.)
We are fairly sure that Abdul is probably older than 16. We cannot know for certain, but the signs would say that he possibly is. However, as someone pointed out to us, he is "somebody's son." If he were your son, you would I am sure feel differently.
It is a seriously precarious business.
They travel via the underside of lorries, cars, trucks and anything else that you can think of, but not in any conventional manner or by any conventional form of transport. They arrive some months later in a very dirty set of clothes and no paperwork, to be picked up by the police. The lucky ones are then picked up by the Social Services and put into care - as is hoped for. From there they are usually put into emergency care for 28 days, and then onto a more permanent arrangement, such as our house. This is where we came into the equation, a month after Abdul's arrival. As far as we know he has been in England three months. A month with the first carer and then two months with us.
The boys, having established themselves in a foster home undergo a number of interviews with the Home Office and over the course of months and years that follow, their fate as to whether or not they can stay in the UK is decided.
Having put yourself through all that, it has got to be something seriously unnerving to make you risk everything and run away.
Back to that Sunday.....
Our other Afghan boy, also being fostered by us, started phoning round their mutual friends.
No-one had seen Abdul, so it appeared. Not since the day before.
At 6 o'clock Hubby went in search and I called the police and Social Services. As foster carers we do not have full legal guardianship of our charges, although in practice it is clear that on a day to day basis we are the ones who need to do all the things that any caring parent would. In fact it wasn't possible to get hold of Abdul's social worker, but the police were happy to come round and take a statement, and of course search our house. I had often wondered what it must be like to be at the receiving end of police searching your house for evidence. Now I knew. Nothing was left unturned. I went back into Abdul's room and put the drawers back. The police were polite and kind, but I couldn't help but think that they could have put the drawers back. Maybe I am just fussy. Or maybe I hadn't expected that we were being treated as potential suspects.
The next morning hubby scoured Gloucester again. I rang the lawyer that Abdul had been due to meet. They had been planning on discussing his immigration procedure. The lawyer, also in Gloucester, clearly needed a bit of clarification. I rang Hubby. "I'll go down there" he said.
Between them they deduced that possibly Abdul had become frightened about his story that he was going to present to the Home Office. It is a scary business telling the Home Office why you might want to stay in this Country, especially when your story isn't quite what the Home Office may consider a good case for political asylum. Especially when perhaps someone has maybe pointed that out to you. You may just be tempted in Abdul's situation to want to "tweak" the story slightly, to what you think might ensure that you do get whatever it is that you intended to get when you came to England.
This is what we think happened. Of course, we don't really know. We hope and pray that he is not hurt or worse...
Perhaps he has run away with a view to fixing his story and starting again as a "new" asylum seeker. Perhaps he intends to be "found" on a lorry. He possibly hasn't anticipated that the fingerprints that the Police took on arrival can be cross referred, and so even giving a different name wouldn't help.
Or perhaps he is hiding with friends in Gloucester in the ever growing Afghan community, with a view to maybe re-emerging at some point as an adult asylum seeker. This really wouldn't be a good idea. He may have to be there a long time...
Sadly, we really have no idea though, and we really would like to just know where he has gone. If he comes back soon, then we can help him. If he misses his appointment with the Home Office on Monday though, he will possibly be considered an absconder. His chances of getting asylum from then on in will be considerably reduced. And, of course he is almost certainly misguided if he thinks that he can restart the whole process again by being "found".
In the meantime ... having turned over every stone that we can think of, asked everyone that we know to turn over all their stones and turned up nothing ... all we can do is wait.
If you see him though, please ask him to go home to Sally and Derek's house. Soon.