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Tamil asylum seeker’s coronavirus death highlights criticism of UK immigration policy

The death of a Tamil asylum seeker from coronavirus last week has highlighted criticism of Britain’s immigration policy towards migrants in the country, including those who have been fleeing persecution in Sri Lanka.

Alakaratnam Jeevithan, an asylum seeker from Jaffna, came to the UK ten years ago as he fled Sri Lankan state repression. Yet despite being in Britain for over a decade, his asylum claim was never fully accepted and he had continued to fight legal battles until his death from coronavirus at a London hospital last week.

His family are still in Jaffna.

Jeevithan’s death highlights the struggles that many Tamil asylum seekers continue to face in Britain, as they battle deportation to Sri Lanka. Many have been trapped in the UK asylum system for years, fighting expensive cases and British bureaucracy. 

“There are many Tamils in the UK, who despite having continuously lived here for years, still have not received permanent resident status or had their asylum claims accepted,” said a London-based immigration lawyer. “Many of them are living in extremely precarious situations, often forced to work under the table or end up homeless, and are made particularly vulnerable by this pandemic.”

A group of British parliamentarians echoed those concerns this week, with 60 MPs writing to health secretary Matt Hancock and warning him that the government’s hostile environment policies had left undocumented migrants afraid to seek medical attention.

The letter cited the case of a Filipino man who did not seek care “fearing that he would be charged thousands of pounds for his treatment, or that he would face immigration enforcement if he tried to access care”. He died at his home on April 8.

Several prominent organisations have since called on Britain’s National Health Service (NHS) to suspend data sharing with the UK Home Office, including the British Medical Association, the Royal College of Physicians and Doctors of the World.

Despite the calls, the British government has refused to alter the NHS immigration checks, which includes charges for those it deems “overseas visitors”. 

“It is vital that a clear message is sent to our migrant communities that they can seek care when they need it, that they are included in our society and have a part to play in response to this crisis,” continued the parliamentarians’ letter.

See more from The Guardian here and The Independent here.