Last week, Jonathan Nicola, a star high school basketball player in Canada, was exposed as a 29-year old man posing as an 11th grader.
Nicola is a refugee from South Sudan. The student visa application that he filed with Canada claimed that he was born in 1998, but it was not until he tried to enter the United States with a U.S. visitor’s visa that it was discovered that his fingerprints matched that of a refugee that had applied for asylum in the States.
The application filed with the United States had the same name, but his date of birth was listed as 1986.
According to the Windsor Star, Nicola tried to explain his way out of it by saying that he didn’t know when he was actually born.
“I aways keep asking what is the specific age that I was born, and she has told me that she could not remember,” he said in a detention review on April 19th that was obtained by the paper. “Over (in South Sudan) . . . not every year we study . . . we always keep moving to different schools, and over there, they do not ask your age. They do not ask you nothing.”
Nicola also added that he didn’t file any of the paperwork, that a man named “Coach Steyn” did.
“I told [Coach Steyn], no, I was not born in 1998. I told him that I am too young for 1998,” Nicola said in the hearing. “I’m not in 1998. Then he told me, ‘No, you go back ask my mother, ask my mother how old am I.’ And my mother she do not even remember. She told me 1993, 1990,” Nicola said at the earlier hearing. So I went back and this guy he just do me the paper . . . he did the whole papers. He did everything.”
On the surface, I can see why people find this situation funny. There are times where I wish I could go back and re-do my high school days. I think we all understand that.
But this isn’t a situation where Nicola is trying to relive anything. It’s just incredibly sad.
Let’s assume, for a second, that he’s telling the truth, that he legitimately believed that he was 17 years old. He’s 29! Can you imagine living in a country where it’s possible for a 29 year old man to believe that he’s of high school age? Like most people, however, I don’t think Nicola is telling the truth here, which may actually be more depressing.
Read this passage from a Yahoo Sports story on this situation last week:
The scene D’Awol found at Nicola’s house was tragic yet typical for South Sudan.
D’Awol estimated that Nicola and as many as 30 relatives lived in one house with just four or five bedrooms. One of the few members of the family with a full-time job was Nicola’s father, a petroleum engineer who works primarily in the Middle East and sends home as much money as he can.
“He comes from a poor family,” D’Awol told Yahoo Sports. “They all stay in one house including uncles, aunts, their children and their children’s children. And the whole household is supported by an individual or two. That’s basically the reality for about 85 percent of people in South Sudan.”
Nicola’s living situation in South Sudan was bad enough that he thought the best way for him to try and provide for his family was to lie about his age to get into Canada, where he could receive a free high school education and, if all went according to plan, a college education as well.
South Sudan is a war-torn country facing what a United Nations report last month called “one of the most horrendous human rights situations in the world”. (You can find the details here. They’re awful.)
Can you imagine a life where living a lie is the only way you can save your family from that?