Elite cyclist seeking UK asylum told he must move to Bibby Stockholm barge

<span>Mohammad Ganjkhanlou (right) said he had been working his way ‘back through the elite cycling system from the beginning’, helped by Reading cycling club.</span><span>Photograph: Rod Sloane</span>
Mohammad Ganjkhanlou (right) said he had been working his way ‘back through the elite cycling system from the beginning’, helped by Reading cycling club.Photograph: Rod Sloane

A gold medal-winning elite cyclist who is seeking asylum in the UK fears his career will be derailed because he has been told by the Home Office he must move to the Bibby Stockholm barge and cannot take his bike on board.

Mohammad Ganjkhanlou, 26, an Iranian, has won four gold, two silver and six bronze medals in big competitions and has competed in the world championships.

According to Michael Gray, the road race secretary at Reading cycling club, where Ganjkhanlou is a member, he is the best racer in the history of under-23 cycling in Asia.

Ganjkhanlou said since the Home Office placed him in a hotel in Reading eight months ago he had been given new hope for his career, thanks to the support network that he had built in the area.

After the Guardian contacted the Home Office, officials said while he would not be allowed to take his bike on board or ride it in the port area, Ganjkhanlou would be allowed to store it in a lock-up at the port and ride it elsewhere.

“The Reading cycling club are like family to me. Because I am an asylum seeker I have to work my way back through the elite cycling system from the beginning and the club is helping me with this,” Ganjkhanlou said.

“If I can lock my bike up somewhere in Portland it would allow me to train on my own, but I will not have the chance to rebuild my career under the banner of Reading cycling club and race alongside my friends.”

Gray said: “If he moves to Portland, he will suffer with not being able to race. His talent and positive mental attitude will be slammed back down to zero. There are no race tracks, road races or race teams near there, and there is no room for him to take his bike on board. It is his bike that keeps him focused and happy and gives him something to aim for every week and every month.”

Ganjkhanlou, who began cycling at the age of 10, said he had been at a very low point due to the circumstances in his country that had caused him to claim asylum in the UK, but becoming part of the elite cycling community in Reading had been a gamechanger for him.

“When I found Reading cycling club bright days started for me and I forgot my sorrows a little and got closer to competing again,” he said. “They got my race licence for me. They helped me enter competitions, they gave me the club race kit. If the Home Office transfers me to Bibby Stockholm I will be in prison, away from the cycling that is my life and my therapy.”

Emma Clark Lam, a volunteer with the charity Care4Calais in Reading who is supporting Ganjkhanlou, said: “I do believe that Mohammad’s mental health would be gravely at risk if he were sent to live on the Bibby Stockholm barge. For an elite cyclist like Mohammad, the prospect of not being able to train with his local club or compete in races is unimaginable.

“We’re still hoping the Home Office will change their mind on this, but if they don’t, it would be a very cruel outcome for poor Mohammad.”