Teenage orphan told he can stay in Scotland permanently
Published on 13 June 2021
The orphaned son of an asylum seeker who has lived under the threat of deportation for 10 years has been told he can stay permanently in the UK.
Giorgi Kakava, 13, said he is delighted and very relieved that the Home Office has finally granted him the right to remain indefinitely which means he can continue living in Glasgow for as long as he wants.
He said a "big weight" had been lifted off his shoulders but is sad and disappointed that his beloved grandmother, Ketino Baikhadze, has only been given 30-months leave to remain and could still be forced to return to Georgia, the country of their birth.
Giorgi, who is in second year at Springburn Academy and arrived in the city when he was three, said: "I was very excited when I heard that I have been granted permanent residency and can continue staying here.
"It is good news because Glasgow is my home, I feel Scottish and If I got moved to Georgia it would be tough to cope without all my friends.
"But the decision is very unfair on my nan because we are very close and I do not know what I would do if she was sent away."
The Home Office decision on Giorgi's status is a victory for the Church of Scotland which has tirelessly campaigned for nearly three-and-a-half years to ensure that he and his grandmother were not removed from their home against their will.
The case was championed by Rev Brian Casey, minister of Springburn Parish Church, who lobbied the UK and Scottish governments and launched an online petition which attracted 92,650 signatures.
Giorgi and his mother, Sopio Baikhadze, fled to Glasgow in 2011 because she feared that gangsters whom her late husband owed a debt to would either kill him or sell him to sex traffickers.
The 35-year-old, who worked as a freelance translator and spoke four languages, was awaiting the outcome of an appeal for asylum when she passed away after a long illness in early 2018.
Mr Casey conducted her funeral at Springburn Parish Church along with Father John McGrath of nearby St Aloysius Church and it was her dying wish that her son remained in Glasgow and continued to grow up a "Scottish boy".
Speaking out against injustice
Former Glasgow North-East MP turned MSP, Paul Sweeney, raised the case in the House of Commons and the then Prime Minister Theresa May ordered a Home Office review.
Bob Doris, MSP for Glasgow Maryhill and Springburn, brought Giorgi's plight to the attention of the Scottish Parliament and secured the support of First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.
The Home Office granted the teenager and his grandmother leave to remain in the UK for 30-months in July, 2018 and their permits expired in December last year, once again leaving them facing an uncertain future.
The Church, which speaks out against injustice, reignited the campaign and used the mainstream media and social media to highlight the family's plight - a move which led to more signatures and representations directly made to Home Secretary, Priti Patel.
Asked how he has coped with living under a cloud of uncertainty since the death of his mother, Giorgi said: "I have felt stressed because it has always been in the back of my mind that something could go wrong and I might be sent away to a place I do not remember.
"But I was not scared because I have had people behind me.
"I would like to thank everyone who signed the petition and all those who have supported me.
"People in Springburn have been by my side helping throughout all of this, they are very kind and I will always be grateful.
"I feel like a big weight has been lifted off my shoulders and I can move forward with my life with a lot less stress than I felt before."
Mrs Baikhadze, 61, said she was "very happy" that the hard-fought campaign to keep Giorgi, who loves assembling desktop computers and graphic design, in the UK had been successful.
She is pragmatic about her own situation and explained: "I live for Giorgi and as long as he is fine, I am fine as well.
"It is great news that he has been granted permanent residency and I would also like to thank everyone who has supported and helped us."
Mr Casey said he is "delighted" that Giorgi has finally been given the chance to live the life of a normal teenager.
"It has been a long fight but it would have been criminal to send him back to a country that he doesn't know where he could be in danger," he added.
"But it does seem wrong that his gran, who is his guardian, will have to go through this whole protracted process again when he is 15 and still a minor.
"So, as we move forward we will have to keep an eye on that because it would be a travesty if they are split up."
Mr Casey said hospitality and welcoming the stranger is at the heart of the Christian message.
He explained why he could not stand idly by and risk seeing a grieving 10-year-old boy, who helped comfort and nurse his mother in her final days, being taken away from everything he knows.
"I was the chaplain at Giorgi's primary school and when I was asked to conduct his mum's funeral and learned of his situation and what he was facing, I tried to put myself in his position and thought ‘what would I do, who would stand up for me and be on my side?" he added.
"I started writing letters to the Home Office, MPs, MSPs and then launched the petition with the support of colleagues and local politicians which touched a nerve with a lot of people."
Mr Casey arranged for a tree to be planted in the church garden in Sopio's memory to give Giorgi somewhere to go to remember his mother as her body was repatriated to Georgia, a former Soviet republic, for burial.
Andrew Bradley, a lawyer who specialises in immigration cases, said the future remained uncertain for Mrs Baikhadze and she might have to wait up to 10 years before being granted indefinite leave to remain.
"In two and a half years, Ketino will be required to apply for further leave to remain and at that stage the Home Office might consider that she should get the same leave as Giorgi because they are a family.
"I am hopeful that is what will happen but there is no guarantee.
"Unfortunately this ongoing uncertainty is the daily life of many families and that is the sad reality of the way the system works."
Dr Tracy Kirk, a children's rights expert at Glasgow Caledonian University, she is delighted for Giorgi and his case highlighted the need for human rights to underpin decision making in all processes which impact a child.
"Current immigration processes are long, complicated and are not underpinned by the human rights of those impacted by them," she said.
Mr Doris said he is very pleased that Giorgi's future is now secure but disappointed that his grandmother has not been granted the same status as him.
"Much heartache and worry could have been avoided some time ago had the Home Office simply moved quickly to provide certainty for Giorgi and his gran," he added.
"Such a protracted process benefits no-one."
The Church hosts Scottish Faiths Action for Refugees, a multi-faith partnership project.