Stoly Jankovic: much-loved shop worker is ‘mortified' over looming deportation

EXCLUSIVE: Popular Kentish Town figure tells his story from a detention centre in Dorset

Saturday, 1st April 2017 — By William McLennan


Mr Jankovic has served customers at Earth Natural Foods for ten years

A KENTISH TOWN man who has been detained by border police and is awaiting deportation within days has said he is “mortified” at the prospect of losing the British life that he has spent the past 27 years building.

Speaking on Friday as the sun set on his first day in detention, Stojan Jankovic told the New Journal: “I am absolutely mortified. I’m not mortified and afraid of this place. This [detention centre] is fine, there’s nothing scary about it, but I’m mortified about losing my life.”

The 53-year-old, who is known as “Stoly”, is a familiar face to many from his role at Earth Natural Foods in Kentish Town Road, where he has worked for the past decade.

He fled his home in what was then the Republic of Yugoslavia in 1991 as tensions mounted ahead of the war that would go on to claim an estimated 140,000 lives.

Mr Jankovic, who lives in Malden Road, was detained on Thursday as he attended a monthly appointment at an immigration reporting centre in London Bridge.

With only the clothes on his back, he was transported to The Verne Immigration Removal Centre – a former fortress and prison in the Isle of Portland, Dorset – where he remains.

His mobile phone was confiscated, but he has been granted access to another and was able to speak to the New Journal on Friday evening.

He said that his failure to get to grips with the bureaucracy of the immigration system was to blame for the “sticky situation” he finds himself in.

“I see myself as completely assimilated,” he said. “I don’t know what more I can do in that respect. This is my neighbourhood, my culture. If you don’t mind me saying so assertively, this is my place. Why is it not my place? Because I don’t have the proper papers signed. I’m sorry, that’s my fault, I admit it.”

The Verne, a former prison in Dorset, where Mr Jankovic is being held. PIC: Google

He added: “I ended up in this mess because I couldn’t fill out my indefinite leave to remain form properly. I don’t understand those things. I can write poetry in English, I dream in English and I function professionally in English, but I can’t read forms in Serbian or English. That’s my problem and that’s how I ended up in this sticky situation.”

Describing his deep sense of connection to Kentish Town, he said: “I had friends in Yugoslavia when I was young. We we were outsiders and freaks, banded together for safety. But here in Kentish Town, this is the first time in my life that I actually have a feeling of living in a neighbourhood, of being part of a community. I have never felt that before. I really grew to appreciate this feeling.”

News of his detention caused outrage in NW5 yesterday and a petition has been created calling for the Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, to “stop the shameful deportation”.

Match of the Day presenter Gary Lineker was among those to offer their support to Mr Jankovic after reading of his plight in the New Journal and last night tweeted: “Save Stoly”.

Holborn and St Pancras MP Keir Starmer has intervened and is assisting Mr Jankovic.

John Grayson, who has employed Mr Jankovic for the past 15 years, said: “This has been his home and his work and his community for the last 27 years. He’s known to hundreds if not thousands of people in Kentish Town as the bloke with a beard that serves in our shop.”

He described Mr Jankovic as “kindly, avuncular, cheerful, reliable,” adding: “I don’t think he’s had a day off sick in the 15 years he’s worked for us”.

Since Mr Jankovic left his home, the Republic of Yugoslavia was disbanded and separated into independent states.

Mr Grayson said: “The area of Yugoslavia he is from is now Serbia, but he’s never been a Serbian citizen, he’s never had a Serbian passport and we don’t know if he has any right to live in Serbia either. He is stateless.”

Speaking from his cubicle in the immigration detention centre’s “induction” wing – which he describes as “like a pen for sub-standard cattle to be disposed of” – Mr Jankovic said he fears returning to the country that he has not visited for nearly three decades.

“I have absolutely no frame of reference anymore, after 27 years, I don’t know that place. I am 53 years old. I live a modest life [in London] and I am happy with that. I am fully independent. I pay my rent, I pay my upkeep and I pay my bloody tax. I’m happy with all that.

“If I go back, I will be depending on my elderly mother and there will be no prospect of anything for me. Especially considering my age. I’m not going to be 18 and gunning to go.”

When he first arrived in London in 1991, Mr Jankovic said he had no intention to stay for more than a few months, hoping simmering tensions in Yugoslavia would have calmed. Instead, war broke out, plunging the region into chaos and forcing an estimated 4 million people to flee their homes.

Describing leaving on the eve of the crisis, Mr Jankovic said: “My dad was working in tourism, so he put me on a plane with an organised group. I made a plan with my mum: ‘ok let’s lay low for a couple of months. When everything calms down, because it will have to calm down sometime, I’ll come back’.

“All of a sudden I found myself with a suitcase and 100 German marks, on my way to London. That was September 1991, by December 1991 my mum told me there is no way for me to go back. She repeated that through the 1990s, as it was unravelling in Bosnia and then in Kosovo. She repeatedly told me not to even think about it.”

He then applied for asylum, which after a seven year delay, was rejected. “They gave me ‘right to remain’ for one year, leading to indefinite leave to remain. Which at that point, it was the 2000, would be a pure formality for me. I’d just fill out the forms and that’s it. All the others at that time did it. But I, being a schmuck, got scared because I don’t understand those things and I didn’t want to do something wrong.”

He also admits that he was worried about the impact an earlier brush with the law may have on his application.

In the mid-1990s feeling “lost” in a foreign city, as his war-torn homeland featured on nightly news reports, Mr Jankovic found himself on a downward spiral of drug addiction.

“I never had a drug problem before, I had it because I was entirely lost, without any sense of direction at that time. It was just an epidemic, really, the junk. When I was part of it in the 1990s, everybody around me [was using]. When I had it and it calmed my nerves so nicely, then soon enough I was hanging on it.”

During a two month spell in HMP Wandsworth on a drug charge, he went cold turkey, “sweated it out” and has never looked back, he said.

“I cleaned up, I found immediately voluntary work. I was signing on and I was working in a charity shop for about three years. All the while I was thinking let’s keep going, let’s make ourselves the citizen. A productive human being. Let’s have something to offer. At that point I began the job at Bumblebees [Natural Foods in Brecknock Road]. I have been in full-time employment ever since.”

He came to the attention of immigration officials around 2011 after a raid on a home he was sharing with others. “I think it was a house that was totally occupied by foreigners, I think that’s what attracted them,” he said.

Ever since he has had to visit Becket House in Southwark, the Home Office’s immigration reporting centre, once a month. “I present my reporting paper, they punch computer and let me go,” he said.
But this month was different. Instead of returning to work, Mr Jankovic was detained and told he could be deported by as early as Tuesday, April 4.

“It’s a little bit uncertain,” he said on Friday. “I have been told I can produce some sort of appeal, I can say why I think I shouldn’t be deported. If I am to have an opportunity to do that, it must mean I will have some time other than April 4.”

Mr Grayson, who is one of many working to prevent Mr Jankovic’s deportation, said he is hopeful Mr Starmer’s intervention would be successful, adding: “They have sent a formal request to the Home Office to delay the deportation by 14 days to allow, at least, someone to put Stoly’s case…so his story can be heard.”

To all the hundreds who have signed the petition and shared news of his detention, Mr Jankovic said: “I’m very grateful and moved by anyone’s kindness. Kindness is devalued these days. It makes me want to cry sometimes, encountering excessive kindness.

“I am extremely grateful whatever outcome of this, I am truly grateful to anyone who had any friendly, supportive opinion and feelings towards me. I feel only the same in reverse.”

A Home Office spokesman said on Monday morning: “We do not routinely comment on individual cases.”

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