He WAS 12 when his widowed mother paid $8,000 to an organisation promising to take her two sons to the safety of Italy and out of war-ravaged Afghanistan.
The first thing that happened to Gudwali was to be separated from his sibling.
He was to spend the next year bouncing around Europe, always hungry, always in peril, usually thrown into detention by the authorities in his latest “safe haven”.
The smuggling of migrants across borders, he was to discover, was rather like a major corporation.
The folk at the top took huge sums from desperate people like his mum, then the operation was subcontracted to senior managers, middle managers and local agents.
It was, after all, a very lucrative business which could afford to bribe whenever necessary and to whomsoever could keep the racket on the road.
His short life almost ended when one of the agents – the bottom rung in the ladder – packed him and well over a hundred others onto a boat built for 20 travelling from Turkey to Greece. The early arrivals were locked in the hold. Gudwali, thankfully, was on deck.
Nevertheless he was minutes from certain death when the boat sank and he was saved by a lifeboat.
Further down the line came the Calais ‘jungle’ and many fruitless attempts to stowaway on a lorry to the UK, where he had been told his brother had now made his home.
Finally, he crossed the Channel in a banana lorry which the driver had happily not refrigerated. And into the arms of a Home Office who decreed that he couldn’t possibly be 13 and told him he was 16 and a half.
Later, he gleaned that, so long as he could be declared over 16, there was no obligation to foster or educate him.
All this and more I learned from this charming now 22-year-old man as he talked at the Aye Write! book festival about that appalling journey, now published in his memoir The Lightless Sky.
I thought about him again this week when the government in London set its face against confirming the status of European migrants, and refusing to admit any more child refugees. Gudwali, because of his own spirit and determination, did get fostered, did go to school, and, indeed, graduated in politics philosophy and economics from Manchester University. His passport is a refugee one, which means there are only certain countries he is permitted to visit in his role as global ambassador to other threatened children fleeing famine and conflict.
He cannot risk going home to see his mother again, and he has missed family weddings and funerals in the ten years he has been away.
Last year, he met and married a Danish woman of Afghani extraction, but because she has no Danish passport they meet only when he travels there.
This week, they should be together visiting America, where Gudwali is giving a lecture.
But they have to country hop to get there, since they can land nowhere without a matched set of visas.
It may be that, in Trumpland, they will not get out of the airport. A part of me hopes not, because I fear for his safety and his hard won liberty. Gudwali Passarlay, linguist, internationalist, children’s ambassador – a migrant who still cooks a monthly meal for the good people in Bolton who took him in – is one of the finest young men I have ever encountered