A scientist conducting pioneering research into renewable energy is facing deportation to Sri Lanka – where he was tortured – after the Home Office bungled his asylum claim.
Dr Nadarajah Muhunthan, 47, and his wife Sharmila, 42, and their three children – aged five, nine and 13 – came to the UK in 2018 after he won a prestigious Commonwealth Rutherford fellowship.
The award allowed him to come to the UK for two years to research and develop groundbreaking thin-film photovoltaic devices used to generate solar energy – and his wife soon got a job caring for elderly people in a nursing home, The Guardian reported.
The family are Tamils, a group that has experienced consistent persecution in Sri Lanka.
Muhunthan was arrested in 2019 when he returned to his home country for a short trip to visit his sick mother. He eventually escaped and claimed asylum in the UK, but neither him or his wife were allowed to continue working after his scholarship finished in February 2020.
On 20 September this year, a Home Office case worker sent an email saying the family’s asylum claim was “under active consideration” – and another last week saying the claim had been refused on 23 August – 28 days before the family were told their case was still being considered.
The family had been renting accommodation in Bristol, and all the children were settled at school there. The couple’s eldest daughter, Gihaniya, has reportedly received outstanding school reports and hopes to be a doctor when she grows up.
But the Home Office moved the family from their rented home in Bristol to a hotel in London last month. “It is so boring here. It is like a prison,” Gihaniya told the Guardian. “I just want to go to school. Sometimes I put on my school uniform and just go and stand in the street.”
The nursing home where Sharmila had worked had begged the Home Office to let her continue working. “We are in dire need of trained healthcare staff and we urge you to consider Mrs Sharmila Muhunthan’s right to work for us as a matter of urgency,” her manager wrote, but the request was refused.
John Penrose, the family’s Tory MP in Weston-super-Mare, where they previously lived, has hit out at the Home Office for their treatment of the family.
In a letter to Priti Patel, the home secretary, earlier this month, Penrose wrote: “This looks like a wholly avoidable situation which has been caused by UK visas and immigration working too slowly.”
The family’s lawyer, Naga Kandiah of MTC solicitors, told The Guardian: “There is growing concern over the state of human rights in Sri Lanka, with the UN high commissioner, Michelle Bachelet, noting that ‘surveillance, intimidation and judicial harassment of human rights defenders, journalists and families of the disappeared has not only continued, but has broadened to a wider spectrum of students, academics, medical professionals and religious leaders critical of government policies’.”
A Home Office spokesperson said: “All asylum and human rights claims will be carefully considered on their individual merits in accordance with our international obligations.”