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Sri Lankan man left in immigration limbo for decades can stay in UK

Ponnampalam Jothibala, who came to the UK in 1983, granted indefinite leave to remain by Home Office

A man who came to the UK to train as an accountant almost 40 years ago and was left homeless after a catalogue of Home Office delays has finally been granted leave to remain months before his 70th birthday.

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

When interviewed by the Guardian last year, Jothibala said he had not been able to leave the UK for decades, but he dreamed of going on holiday by the seaside if his case was ever sorted.

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

Ponnampalam Jothibala
Ponnampalam Jothibala. Photograph: Supplied

“I need a holiday after all this,” Jothibala said. “Many, many years ago I visited Spain and Portugal and loved these places. I have decided I will go to Barcelona for my holiday.”

He came to the UK in 1983 to go on a course at the London School of Accountancy, with hopes of forging a professional career. Education was highly valued in his family – both his parents were teachers and his close relatives are lawyers, doctors and accountants.

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

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

He was convicted of fraud and theft in 2003, and the Home Office planned to deport him, but he lodged an appeal and an immigration judge ruled in his favour in May 2006. The judge found Jothibala had been pressured and intimidated by criminals into committing the crime, from which he had derived no benefit himself.

The Home Office mistakenly recorded on Jothibala’s file that he had lost rather than won his appeal, although officials took no steps to remove him from the UK, nor did they appeal against the judge’s ruling.

Ponnampalam Jothibala in a Hindu temple in Harrow
Jothibala in a Hindu temple in Harrow. Photograph: Supplied

A note on his Home Office file in July 2014 stated that Home Office officials, having spoken to the courts and tribunal service, now knew that the appeal had been upheld rather than dismissed. The note stated that “in light of the mishandling of the case following the determination of 2006”, the case would be reconsidered. However, no action was taken.

Jothibala’s solicitor, Naga Kandiah, of MTC Solicitors, sent a letter to the Home Office last year informing officials that he would be lodging judicial review proceedings if they did not resolve the matter speedily.

He said the Home Office had rejected an application he had 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 a historic injustice can devastate a person’s life. My client has lost out on so many opportunities to progress in life. In 2006, his deportation order was overturned by the court but unfortunately nobody recognised that he was without formal status. After four decades in the UK I am so glad that the Home Office decided to exercise discretion and has granted him indefinite leave to remain.”

Last year, the Home Office told the Guardian it would be defending its approach in this case after Kandiah launched a legal challenge. When approached again about the decision to grant Jothibala indefinite leave, a spokesperson said the Home Office did not comment on individual cases.

The Guardian

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