Twenty-two-year-old Samim Bigzad narrowly escaped deportation from England this week, after a courageous airline pilot on the commercial Turkish Airlines flight scheduled to fly him out of the United Kingdom refused to participate in the removal effort.
Bigzad had initially been slated to be returned to Kabul after nearly two years of seeking asylum in the U.K. When activists learned that he was being placed on a plane for deportation, they quickly rallied at London’s Heathrow Airport, where they quietly began explaining Bigzad’s story to other passengers.
Bridget Chapman, one of the activists, told the Independent that, though they were eventually kicked off the plane, she received a text message from one of Bigzad’s British advocates notifying her that he had been returned to detention facilities in the U.K.
“There were three guards who tried to force him onto the plane…my cousin was crying and shouting ‘I’m going to get killed in Afghanistan,’” a family member told The Independent. “Samim said they were in the tunnel by the door when the pilot came out and said: ‘You’re not going to take him, I’m not flying. Someone’s life is at risk.”
I have reached out to Turkish Airlines for comment on the incident, and will update this story with their response. Bigzad, meanwhile, has reportedly been returned to an immigration center near the English city of Gatwick.
Bigzad had originally entered Britain in 2015, seeking asylum from his native Afghanistan where, the Independent reported, he claimed to have received death threats from Islamic militants angry that he was working for a construction company with ties to American corporations. Despite the conditions of his departure from Afghanistan, and the fact that his father is a British citizen, Bigzad’s request for asylum were denied by U.K. officials. He was eventually taken into custody on July 4 of this year during a routine immigration check with authorities, according to an online petition set up on Bigzad’s behalf.
“Sam is not just a number, not just a statistic,” a friend who had been hosting Bigzad recently wrote before the deportation attempt. “He’s a shy, lovely, funny, polite and harmless young man who needs our help. Sam likes cricket, Ted the cat, history and learning English. I hear from him via text most days. He’s still managing to be positive.”
Given that it’s likely England will once again attempt to deport Bigzad back to Afghanistan, his family had requested the Afghan government declare they are incapable of ensuring his security should re-enter the country.