Author: Ceylan Yeginsu
LONDON — Britain’s home secretary has apologized to hundreds of immigrants who were illegally forced to provide DNA samples as part of a visa application process to settle in the country.
In a speech to Parliament on Thursday, the home secretary, Sajid Javid, said that an internal review had found that more than 400 immigrants — including relatives of Gurkha soldiers and of Afghan nationals who had served the British government — were sent letters demanding DNA tests to prove they were related to British citizens.
Those seeking visas to remain in Britain on the basis of a family relationship can choose to provide DNA evidence to support their application, but the provision is not mandatory by law.
“At the end of June, we became aware of some immigration cases where the provision of DNA evidence had been made a requirement, and it was not simply a request,” Mr. Javid said.
“Such demands are unacceptable,” he added. “Today, I want to take the opportunity to apologize to those affected by this practice.”
Mr. Javid said that the majority of cases involved had been part of a 2016 operation aimed at addressing fraud in some human rights applications for immigration. As part of the operation, seven people were denied the right to stay in Britain solely because of their failure to provide DNA evidence. Six more were refused on suitability grounds having also failed to provide DNA evidence, though that was not the sole reason.
“Regardless of the numbers of people that have been affected, one case is still one too many,” Mr. Javid said.
The latest revelation of wrongdoing by the Home Office comes after an immigration scandal that was exposed this year involving the wrongful detention and forced removal of many Caribbean immigrants known as the Windrush generation.
Many of those immigrants came to Britain after World War II on a British ship called the Empire Windrush and were granted citizenship and rights under the immigration act of 1971.
But after immigration laws were tightened in 2012 by Prime Minister Theresa May — then the home secretary — many immigrants from the Windrush generation struggled to prove their status because they had never been formally naturalized. The crisis threatened their access to health care, jobs and put them at risk of deportation. Some lost jobs and were, in fact, deported.
The government has also apologized for the Windrush scandal.
Steve Valdez-Symonds, migrant rights program director in Britain for Amnesty International, said in a statement that the Home Office had “once again been exposed as being a law unto itself.”
“The home secretary needs to face up to the fact that problems in his department are systemic, chronic and deep-rooted,” he said.
Opposition politicians accused Home Office officials of continuing to carry out the government’s “hostile environment” policy.
Yvette Cooper, a Labour lawmaker and the chairwoman of the Home Affairs Select Committee in Parliament, said in a statement that the home secretary’s statement was “deeply troubling.”
“Coming after Windrush, it shows something going very wrong in the Home Office again,” she said. “A new wider review must be independent and should examine oversights failure and the impact of policies on the culture of Home Office operations.”