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A Canadian high school basketball player who was thought to be just 17 years old is now insisting that he made an honest mistake while supplying information for legal documents because he didn’t know he was really 29 years old, The Guardian reports

“I understand your desire to [go home], but the way you have gone about doing that is, frankly, quite illegal,” Currie said. 

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Nicola, who remains in custody in Canada, did not speak at a detention briefing held Tuesday, but his testimony from an earlier hearing was made public. In it he told officials that his mother did not know his real age. 

“I aways keep asking what is the specific age that I was born, and she has told me that she could not remember,” Nicola recounted in the April 19 testimony. “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 said that he came to Canada to receive a good education so that he could support his family back in South Sudan. 

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“I am not a liar … I am religious. I pray to God. If something bad happen to me here, I do not know what would happen to my mother back home because she is really sick. She has diabetes,” Nicola said. “I did not come here to harm any people or do something bad. All my goal is to study and get the education so I can go back home, I can help my mother, I can help all my rest of the family.”

Nicola arrived in Canada in November on a student visa, The Guardian notes. It is not clear how he successfully went through so many levels of screening before being allowed into the country. However, according to the site, it was only when Nicola applied for a U.S. visa to play basketball with his high school in this country that Canadian authorities were alerted about possible discrepancies.

“When he recently applied for a U.S. visitor visa, it was determined by fingerprint match that he was the same individual who had made a previous application to the U.S. using a [date of birth] of [Nov. 1], 1986,” the Canadian Border Services Agency said. 

At his earlier hearing, Nicola apologized to his high school coach, Peter Cusumano, and pleaded to go back home to South Sudan. 

“Please, if you let me, send me back home. It would be much more better for me and for my family and for my mental health,” he said. 

His plea, however, was denied by adjudicator Valerie Currie, who believes that he deliberately deceived officials. 

Nicola’s next hearing is scheduled for May 24.

Read more at The Guardian