While lib­eral hand wringers made empty pledges to take in a refugee, one ac­claimed writer qui­etly did so — only to have her kind­ness be­trayed

Daily Mail - - Life - By Guy Adams

Over re­cent years, we have wit­nessed many celebri­ties us­ing so­cial me­dia to tell the world what won­der­ful hu­man be­ings they are (the names Gary Lineker and Lily Allen come to mind).

One par­tic­u­lar cause close to the hearts of these self-styled do-good­ing lib­er­als has been the plight of the hun­dreds of thou­sands of refugees who have trav­elled from Africa and the Mid­dle east to be­gin new lives in Bri­tain and main­land eu­rope.

Typ­i­cal of the high- pro­file fig­ures to say they would hap­pily take refugees into their home have been Bob Geldof and Labour’s Yvette Cooper. To date, though, very few have hon­oured their pledge.

So it is very re­fresh­ing to dis­cover that, while many of these saintly fig­ures have re­neged on their prom­ise, oth­ers have nobly stepped in and in­vited a refugee to live in their home.

One of these is the dis­tin­guished jour­nal­ist Lynn Bar­ber. Around 18 months ago, af­ter be­ing deeply af­fected by ‘al­most daily hor­ror sto­ries’ of mi­grants dur­ing the sum­mer of 2015 ( in par­tic­u­lar, by pho­tos of a Syr­ian mother try­ing to hold her baby above the waves on a Mediter­ranean beach), she de­cided to of­fer help.

That mother was Bar­ber’s ‘per­sonal tip­ping point — the mo­ment when I de­cided I must do some­thing’, the 73-year-old grand­mother has ex­plained.

So be­gan an in­trigu­ing so­cial ex­per­i­ment that saw the fa­mous in­ter­viewer — whose mem­oir, An ed­u­ca­tion, be­came a hit film star­ring Carey Mul­li­gan — al­low a twenty- some­thing, mar­ried Su­danese asy­lum seeker called Mo­hammed to move into her home in High­gate, North Lon­don.

The fact that she car­ried out this gen­er­ous act in con­di­tions of vir­tual se­crecy is dou­bly com­mend­able, con­sid­er­ing the nau­se­at­ing way much richer pub­lic fig­ures, such as tax-avoid­ing Tv pre­sen­ter Lineker, have treated the tragic refugee cri­sis as a topic for virtue-sig­nalling.

That said, the story of Mo­hammed — as told by Bar­ber in last week­end’s Sun­day Times Mag­a­zine — of­fers a fas­ci­nat­ing in­sight into this hu­man cri­sis. For it raises trou­bling is­sues such as the true sta­tus of these would-be refugees, their at­ti­tudes to Bri­tish so­ci­ety (and to women, in par­tic­u­lar) and their of­ten un­gra­cious at­ti­tude to the coun­try that has given them a new home.

Bar­ber tells how, at first, she wrote to Is­ling­ton Coun­cil, of­fer­ing to take in a Syr­ian fam­ily. But she re­ceived no re­ply.

Sub­se­quently, she met an artist in a bar who said he’d been build­ing shel­ters for mi­grants in the in­fa­mous Jun­gle camp near Calais. Through him, she was in­tro­duced to Mo­hammed.

HAIL­ING from Su­dan, he was said to have sneaked into the UK in the wheel-arch of a lorry that trav­elled from France through the Chan­nel Tun­nel. He’d reg­is­tered with the Home Of­fice and as an asy­lum seeker was wait­ing for his ap­pli­ca­tion to be pro­cessed. In the mean­time, he wasn’t al­lowed to work and re­ceived a weekly £35 liv­ing al­lowance.

His story was as heart-rend­ing as it was fa­mil­iar: hav­ing been forced, he claims, to flee his na­tive Khar­toum to es­cape po­lit­i­cal per­se­cu­tion, he crossed at first the Sa­hara Desert and then the Mediter­ranean to Italy, cour­tesy of peo­ple- smug­glers paid by his un­cle.

Af­ter be­ing briefly de­tained by Ital­ian po­lice, he was sent on his way — with­out be­ing fin­ger­printed — and took a train to Nice, in the South of France, and then made his way to Calais, where he spent five months try­ing to get to Bri­tain.

Af­ter fi­nally mak­ing it to this coun­try, he handed him­self into the po­lice — thus be­gin­ning his asy­lum claim.

If Bar­ber had not taken him in, he’d al­most cer­tainly have had to re­main in a de­ten­tion cen­tre.

Bar­ber had lived alone since the death of her hus­band David, an aca­demic, in 2003 and open­ing her home to a stranger was an act of sin­gu­lar gen­eros­ity.

Yet, per­versely, it also turned out to be deeply ill-fated. For the ‘shy, but very po­lite’ young mi­grant who moved into her spare room was, in fact, a Wal­ter Mitty fig­ure whom she ac­cuses of tak­ing ad­van­tage of her hos­pi­tal­ity, ly­ing about his cir­cum­stances, and fab­ri­cat­ing much of his life story.

In her con­fes­sional Sun­day Times ar­ti­cle, Bar­ber tells how Mo­hammed took drugs in her home, down­loaded pornog­ra­phy on to her com­puter, an­noyed her by mak­ing ex­ces­sive use of the NHS, was dis­re­spect­ful to­wards women and non- Mus­lims, and shame­lessly milked the UK’s ben­e­fits sys­tem.

She even­tu­ally booted him out af­ter he re­vealed, dur­ing an ar­gu­ment, that he wasn’t ac­tu­ally a refugee. Far from be­ing a pen­ni­less char­ity case, this re­cip­i­ent of tax­payer funds made it very clear that he was in­de­pen­dently wealthy.

De­spite all this, and although the rea­sons for his orig­i­nal rushed de­par­ture from Su­dan are — at best — still un­clear, Mo­hammed seems to have ex­pe­ri­enced no trou­ble in per­suad­ing the Bri­tish au­thor­i­ties to grant him asy­lum.

For, in March 2016, he was given leave to re­main here for five years — mean­ing his claim for po­lit­i­cal asy­lum had been ac­cepted.

even be­fore Bar­ber met Mo­hammed, her ac­count raises se­ri­ous ques­tions about Bri­tain’s abil­ity to cope with the fall­out from the on­go­ing refugee cri­sis.

For ex­am­ple, there was Labour-run Is­ling­ton Coun­cil’s fail­ure to re­ply to her of­fer to give a home to a Syr­ian fam­ily, de­spite its coun­cil­lors’ many pi­ous state­ments about their de­sire to ‘ help refugees and asy­lum seek­ers’.

At first, Bar­ber and Mo­hammed got on well: he cooked waika, his na­tional dish of minced lamb, onions, toma­toes and yo­ghurt, which Bar­ber found ‘de­li­cious’, and re­galed her with tales of his child­hood: one of 18 chil­dren, whose fa­ther had four wives.

She also learned that he’d left his wife study­ing phar­ma­col­ogy in Su­dan and that she would get a work visa to come to live in Bri­tain as soon as she qual­i­fied — be­cause the UK is short of phar­ma­cists.

But soon, the re­la­tion­ship be­gan to sour.

SHORTLY af­ter mov­ing in, Mo­hammed de­clared that he in­tended to treat Bar­ber, who has two grown-up chil­dren, like his mother. Un­der­stand­ably, Bar­ber said she was not sure she wanted to be treated like a Su­danese mother, ex­plain­ing: ‘I sus­pect it means lots of cook­ing, clean­ing and wash­ing — so I tell him to treat me like what I am, his land­lady, and ba­si­cally keep out of the way.’

Bar­ber also com­mented that her house guest filled the kitchen with sacks of lentils, drums of cook­ing oil and other items of African food ‘so it looks like a cater­ing tent for a rock fes­ti­val’.

He broke the tum­ble dryer and ‘never cleaned the wash­ing ma­chine’. Petty do­mes­tic ten­sion in­creased con­sid­er­ably when she caught him in­creas­ing the tem­per­a­ture on her ther­mo­stat, de­spite be­ing re­peat­edly told not to.

‘This is my house, I keep it at my pre­ferred tem­per­a­ture, and if you don’t like it, you can f*** off back to Calais,’ she said.

Spend­ing large amounts of time in bed, Mo­hammed fre­quently com­plained of mi­nor ill­nesses, such as sore throats and colds. Though Bar­ber re­peat­edly told him to visit the GP, he in­sisted on go­ing to the lo­cal hos­pi­tal’s ca­su­alty-depart­ment.

‘It an­noyed me that he went to A&e more times in the six

months he lived with me than i had been in my whole life, and i gave him a lec­ture about not abus­ing the nHs,’ she wrote.

Bar­ber goes on to con­cede: ‘in ret­ro­spect, i can see there were loads of warn­ing signs.’ she says she should have lis­tened to her cleaner’s ‘many com­plaints’ about him, and adds: ‘i should have lis­tened when my daugh­ter told me to be care­ful.’

On one oc­ca­sion, Mo­hammed asked Bar­ber where he could find the near­est park, as he’d been told that Lon­don parks were the best place to buy mar­i­juana. she re­sponded by in­struct­ing him not to take drugs in her house, a re­quest he re­peat­edly ig­nored.

He also went on shop­ping sprees to ex­pen­sive ar­eas of Lon­don — ‘i now re­alise,’ Bar­ber says, ‘that his rich fam­ily in su­dan must have been fund­ing him.’

Things ap­pear to have then boiled over when, in ad­vance of Mo­hammed’s March 2016 asy­lum hear­ing, Bar­ber pre­pared an ar­ti­cle for the sun­day Times about her de­ci­sion to take a mi­grant into her home. she said she wanted to ‘show read­ers you don’t have to be a saint to take in a refugee, you just have to have a spare room’.

Mo­hammed was shown what she had writ­ten and was ‘deeply up­set and shaken’ by its con­tents. As a re­sult, Bar­ber did not of­fer the piece for pub­li­ca­tion — even though it was nowhere near as crit­i­cal as her fi­nal story.

Ex­actly why Mo­hammed didn’t like what she wrote was not clear. When Bar­ber asked him, he launched a ram­bling at­tack on her.

‘i am not a refugee!’ he de­clared. ‘My fam­ily are very rich! We could buy you up like that! Do you want money? is that why you write this filth? i get you money. You first world women are all the same: you are heart­less. You have no feel­ings. You Chris­tians are all racists.’

With that, he moved out of the house. Can­didly, Bar­ber says: ‘i felt such a fool.’

Fol­low­ing his de­par­ture, the writer, who was mildly up­set that he ap­peared to have been tak­ing ad­van­tage of her hos­pi­tal­ity while si­mul­ta­ne­ously hat­ing her, dis­cov­ered a folder of pho­to­graphs he’d stored on the spare com­puter in his bed­room.

it in­cluded, among other ma­te­rial, ‘naked pic­tures of women with enor­mous boobs and one or two of a cou­ple mak­ing love’, pro­vid­ing Bar­ber at last with some in­sight into why he’d been spend­ing so long on the in­ter­net that she had been forced to up­grade to an un­lim­ited BT broad­band ac­count. THE com­puter file in­cluded sev­eral other pho­to­graphs of him sight­see­ing at the Eif­fel Tower with friends, and loung­ing by swim­ming pools, sug­gest­ing that far from be­ing a bona-fide asy­lum seeker who had fled for his life across France, he was, in truth (as he’d stated in their pre­vi­ous row), a wealthy young man happy to live off Bri­tish tax­payer-funded ben­e­fits and hand­outs from his fam­ily.

‘ His jour­ney across Eu­rope looked more like a hol­i­day jaunt than a des­per­ate flight to asy­lum,’ she wrote, adding that this might ex­plain why, when they had dis­cussed his fu­ture plans, he’d shown no des­per­ate de­sire to get a job.

Per­haps that also ex­plains why, when he moved out, Mo­hammed left be­hind a vast quan­tity of clothes that Bar­ber’s friends — whom she says were all suf­fer­ing ‘ mid­dle- class guilt’ — had gen­er­ously do­nated. He had kept only valu­able de­signer items, so she took the rest to a char­ity shop.

‘i drove up to the Ox­fam shop in High­gate but then i thought “no”, it’s too near, some­one might recog­nise their clothes, so i drove on and on, up to Finch­ley, hat­ing Mo­hammed ev­ery inch of the way,’ she re­called.

A year af­ter this un­for­tu­nate ex­pe­ri­ence with Mo­hammed, Bar­ber (who says with ad­mirable mod­esty: ‘ i am not nat­u­rally hos­pitable and i am not al­tru­is­tic’) de­clares she has re­cov­ered suf­fi­ciently to take in an­other refugee.

The most per­cep­tive of in­ter­view­ers who has won count­less awards for her jour­nal­ism, Lynn Bar­ber will un­doubt­edly make sure her next mi­grant house guest is much more de­serv­ing of her un­doubted kind­ness and gen­eros­ity.

Feted: Carey Mul­li­gan in the Os­car-nom­i­nated film of Lynn Bar­ber’s mem­oir An Ed­u­ca­tion

No good deed goes un­pun­ished: Lynn Bar­ber with Mo­hammed, from last week’s Sun­day Times Mag­a­zine

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