The 33-year-old British-based boxer was born in Nigeria to a mother from Benin and father from Lebanon but was abused as a child and trafficked upon his arrival in the UK.
When British-based Bilal Fawaz strikes a pose with his champion belts, it is possible to imagine he has endured fights that have nothing to do with his occupation.
The light-middleweight boxing champion survived modern-day slavery during his childhood. “What I remember was torture, I remember pain, I remember suffering, I remember hunger”, he recounts.
The Nigerian born grew up in the West African country with his mother from Benin. When he turned 14, he was sent to London to link up with his estranged Lebanese father. But Dad never showed up at the house and his arrival in the UK marked the beginning of a terrible ordeal: he was trafficked and abused.
“When I was in that house and I was kept there and they said, ‘you have to stay here, your dad is going to come and pick you up.’ Realistically speaking, I realised that my dad was never going to come. So I decided to pick up my leg and run out the house several times. And then all of a sudden I ran so far that I couldn’t turn back. I then ended up staying on the streets and crying, and then a man saw me and picked me up and said, ‘I’ll take you to the social services, I know where to take you to.’ And then, ever since, I was a child of the government.”
15-year citizenship battle
Fawaz was sent to the UK care system, where he resided for four years in a hostel for abused and abandoned children. As he managed to get his life back on track, gaining a sports diploma and taking up boxing to the level of becoming national light middleweight champion in 2012 en route to captaining England in an amateur career where he won 80 of 90 fights.
But a cloud remained on the horizon: since he turned 18 he has battled the UK Home Office to be granted residency. Under the Home Office ‘hostile environment’ regime, introduced in 2012, the institution twice tried but failed to deport Fawaz to Nigeria, as his birth was not registered there. When he was arrested in 2017 and 2019 and sent to a migrant detention centre he suffered depression.
Both his parents have now died meaning he has no links to their birth countries either. “I’ve done everything that is supposed to be done to be crowned a British citizen. I’ve done everything, he says. I represented you. And then they locked me up after representing them, and then they took away my educational adventure. They took away my Olympic dreams. They took away my opportunity to have a family.
🥊 It's been an incredible journey for the inspirational @BilalFawaz_ ahead of his debut on Friday.
Learn about some of the battles he's had to endure ahead of finally being able to enter the paid ranks.
— MTK Global Boxing (@MTKGlobal) February 8, 2022
Fawaz’s visa conditions meant that he was unable to sign a lucrative professional contract with Tyson Fury’s promoter Frank Warren, who has lobbied the UK authorities to grant him citizenship.
The former England amateur captain faces Russian Vladimir Fleischhauer at London’s storied York Hall on Friday, marking Bilal’s long-awaited professional boxing debut.
Fawaz hopes he will become a UK citizen one day and will fulfil a dream of fighting professionally in the boxing Mecca of Las Vegas.