Jaafar Hesabi invites me into his family home in London. The place where he lives is quintessentially English looking, with hints of his heritage scattered throughout. For instance, a large nostalgia-ridden photo of what looks like his home country – Bahrain - sits on one side of the wall, whilst on the other lies an English teacup collection. Both Jaafar’s eyes and smile are very kind and friendly, but have a strong hint of cheekiness about them. This is a characteristic he shares with all four of his children, especially his youngest boy. The children all live in the house with him, so he has a home that exudes warm, friendly cheekiness.
Unfortunately, he recently heard that his elderly mother, who lives in Bahrain, has become quite sick. What is particularly sad about this news for him is that he remains unable to visit her. A fact that brings him great sadness and distress.
Jafar has spent the last ten years living in London. He says he feels very comfortable here, working at a community center for other Bahraini residents in the capital. His children have grown up in the UK and are very much part of the local community and society, and are all British nationals. He recognizes that they are experiencing a completely different world to his own upbringing in Bahrain, something he never imagined would be the case. So why did he end up in the UK, and why can he not return to visit his mother? With a smile that is still beaming and filling up the room with energy, he explains. After his nationality was taken from him as punishment for his peaceful protests against the monarchy and government in Bahrain, he realized enough was enough. ‘Prior to having my nationality stolen from me, I had been imprisoned, tortured and isolated for seven months, and seen many colleagues and friends receive life sentences for alleged crimes of which there was no proof.’ He fled to the UK, where he was eventually granted asylum. He lives there as a stateless man.
Although he has spent so much time away from Bahrain, his love for his country of origin has only increased, as has his sense that he needs to help improve it. He continues, for example, diligently taking part in protests against the regime. Taking away his nationality has disrupted his life, left him desolate and stranded him from those he loves, but it has done nothing to decrease his patriotism to his country. Jafar strongly believes that he will one day return to the place he calls home, and his conviction is unyielding when it comes to his hopes for Bahrain.
‘They can put my name on a list and take away my official nationality, but I will always be Bahraini.’