Speaking for Ourselves

Editorial: The DNA of the hostile environment

Editorial: The DNA of the hostile environment


 Migrant Voice -
 Migrant Voice - Editorial: The DNA of the hostile environment

DNA testing in the UK immigration system is far more widely spread than has been reported. Many of our members who arrived in the UK as Syrian refugees and tried to bring their families to safety have had their suffering prolonged due to these expensive, unnecessary tests.

A recent review revealed that the government unlawfully demanded DNA evidence from at least 449 people – including Afghan nationals who had worked for the British armed forces and Gurkha soldiers – as part of their immigration claim.

The revelation was followed by a grovelling apology and a promise to reform the scandal-hit Home Office.

But do we – or the government – have any real idea how many people have been subjected to unlawful requests for DNA?

Richard Alcock, author of the review, says the number is “impossible to quantify”.

Meanwhile, countless others have spent thousands of pounds on DNA tests to support their claims, only to have those claims rejected baselessly. Others remain separated from their families simply because they cannot afford the astronomical fees.

Many of them are refugees who have fled war and persecution.

Mohamed A.H., one of our members, arrived in Glasgow in 2016 as a refugee from Syria and applied for his wife and children to join him.

But the Home Office did not believe the children were his and refused his request.

Mohamed spent a month with his family in Turkey gathering new evidence – photos, documents and DNA tests proving he was the father to his five children.

Despite the DNA evidence, his request was again refused. He was left with the unthinkable choice of living apart from his family or returning with them to their war-torn home.

"I'd prefer to go back to Syria and die with my children under the bombing than stay without them," he said.

And Mohamed was one of the lucky ones.

While he was able to get legal aid to cover the £1500 cost of the DNA tests, others are left struggling to pay for the tests themselves.

Like Youssef B., another member, a refugee from Syria who arrived in Glasgow in 2015. His original marriage certificate had been lost during the war in Syria, leaving him with little evidence to prove that his wife and children were his family.

His first request was denied, leaving him with few options except providing DNA evidence.  

But he had no way of paying £1200 for the tests, and was left in limbo. He became ill with stress and soon began considering sending his family back to Syria, one of the most dangerous places on earth.

To subject people fleeing war and living in desperate, destitute circumstances to these tests – and still to deny their claims – is both unethical and unnecessary.

And to deny people the chance to bring their wives and children to a place of safety for the sake of £1200 is simply cruel.

This invasive, costly procedure must be a last resort, must be funded by the government, and must be considered as decisive evidence in any immigration claim.

The Home Secretary has pledged to investigate whether DNA testing has been used unlawfully in other parts of the immigration system. We welcome this step.

Think about Mohamed, about Youssef. The problems with DNA testing do not begin and end with 449 Afghan and Gurkha soldiers.

This is not an administrative error affecting one group of migrants. This is the hostile environment in action, where the obsession with reducing the number of people arriving in the UK takes precedence over the protection of people fleeing wars and persecution.

Image at the top shows Syrian refugees in a camp on the Syria-Turkey border in 2012. (Asmaa Waguih/Reuters. Image cropped slightly.)