UK Home Office reverses decision on Sri Lankan scientist’s asylum claim
By Diane Taylor
LONDON – The Home Office has U-turned on plans to deport a leading scientist carrying out ground-breaking research into affordable forms of solar energy and allowed him and his family to remain in the UK.
Initially, the Home Office rejected the asylum claim lodged by Dr. Nadarajah Muhunthan, 47, who has been living in the UK since 2018 with his wife, Sharmila, 42, and their three children, aged 13, nine and five.
Muhunthan, who is working on thin-film photovoltaic devices used to generate solar energy, was given a prestigious Commonwealth Rutherford fellowship. The award allowed him to come to the UK for two years to research and develop the technology. He was based at the University of Bristol. His wife got a job caring for elderly people in a nursing home.
The couple’s eldest daughter, Gihaniya, has received outstanding school reports in the UK with a 100% attendance rate and been particularly praised for her achievements in science. She hopes to study to be a doctor when she is older.
The family are Tamils, a group that has experienced persecution in Sri Lanka.
In November 2019, Muhunthan returned to his home country for a short visit to see his sick mother. While there he was arrested and persecuted by the Sri Lankan government. He managed to escape and returned to the UK, where he claimed asylum on the basis of what he had experienced on his visit to Sri Lanka. After his scholarship expired in February 2020, neither he nor his wife were permitted to continue working.
A Home Office case worker sent an email on September 20 this year, saying the family’s asylum claim was “under active consideration”, and another email on October 11, saying the asylum claim had been refused on August 23 – 28 days before the family were told their case was still under consideration.
However, just weeks after the Guardian highlighted the case, the Home Office changed its mind and has now granted Muhunthan and his family refugee status.
Muhunthan thanked the Home Office for their decision. “The Home Office has saved my life and my family’s lives. Now I will be able to continue my research without fear,” he said.
After reading the previous Guardian article about the case, Prof David J. Firmin, head of the electro-chemistry and solar team at the University of Bristol where Muhunthan was conducting research into ways to make solar energy panels more effective and affordable, wrote to the Home Office at the end of October expressing his “deepest concern”.
He said Muhunthan’s work was making a significant contribution to efforts to decarbonize the energy generation sector.
The family’s lawyer, Naga Kandiah of MTC solicitors, welcomed the Home Office’s change of heart. He said: “This is an important victory which recognizes there is systematic torture of Tamils going on in Sri Lanka. This scientist and his family will all be assets to the UK.”