Sri Lankan left in immigration limbo for decades can stay in UK | Immigration and asylum

A man who came to the UK to train as an accountant nearly 40 years ago and found himself homeless after a catalog of Home Office delays has finally been granted permission to stay for months before his 70th birthday.

Ponnampalam Jothibala, 69, a Sri Lankan Tamil, said he was glad his case had finally been resolved, even though he was now “an old man”.

Asked by the Guardian last year, Jothibala said he hadn’t been able to leave the UK for decades, but dreamed of going on a seaside holiday if his case was ever settled .

The Home Office finally granted him indefinite leave to stay earlier this month after leaving him on immigration bail for more than 16 years.

Ponnampalam Jothibala. Photo: provided

“I need a vacation after all this,” Jothibala said. “Many years ago I visited Spain and Portugal and loved those places. I decided to go to Barcelona for my holidays.

He came to the UK in 1983 to take a course at the London School of Accountancy, hoping to forge a professional career. Education was highly valued in his family – both his parents were teachers, and his relatives are lawyers, doctors and accountants.

Instead, he spent decades homeless and on people’s sofas, sometimes sleeping on a mat at the London Sree Ayyappan Temple in Harrow, where he helped as a volunteer cook before the pandemic hit.

He was granted periods of temporary leave to stay by the Home Office in the 1980s, but interrupted his studies after suffering trauma as the victim of an arson attack in which three people died. He survived the fire by jumping out of the first floor window.

He was convicted of fraud and theft in 2003 and the Home Office planned to deport him, but he appealed and an immigration judge ruled in his favor in May 2006. The judge concluded that Jothibala had been pressured and intimidated by criminals into committing the crime. a crime from which he himself had derived no profit.

The Home Office mistakenly recorded in Jothibala’s case that he had lost rather than won his appeal, although the authorities took no action to remove him from the UK, nor appealed against the judge’s decision.

Ponnampalam Jothibala at a Hindu temple in Harrow
Jothibala at a Hindu temple in Harrow. Photo: provided

A note in his Home Office file in July 2014 said Home Office officials, after speaking to the Courts and Tribunals Service, now knew the appeal had been upheld rather than denied. The memo stated that “in light of the mishandling of the case following the 2006 ruling”, the case would be reconsidered. However, no action was taken.

Jothibala’s lawyer, Naga Kandiah of MTC Solicitors, sent a letter to the Home Office last year telling officials he would initiate judicial review proceedings if they did not resolve the case soon.

He said the Home Office rejected an application he made under the Windrush scheme and called for an amnesty for Commonwealth citizens who arrived in the UK before 1988.

Kandiah said, “This case is a sobering reminder of how historic injustice can devastate a person’s life. My client has missed so many opportunities to grow in life. In 2006, his deportation order was overturned by the court but unfortunately no one recognized that he was without official status. After four decades in the UK, I am so happy that the Home Office decided to exercise discretion and granted him leave to stay indefinitely.

Last year, the Home Office told the Guardian it would defend its approach to the case after Kandiah launched legal action. Asked again about the decision to grant Jothibala indefinite leave, a spokesman said the Home Office had not commented on individual cases.

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