By Luqman Onikosi
A migrant’s life is full of uncertainty. For international students, foreign investors or skilled migrants, we have to justify ourselves in order to be given the chance to stay alive. How can we do this? In a system that decides who lives and dies on the basis of economics and race, our chances of proving ourselves worthy are slim.
Clearly, the interests of the UK national should not be relegated over the social welfare needs of migrants. However, as so often happens in the media, migrants should not be paraded as parasitic lesser humans who are here to milk the system, despite the enormous social and economic contribution we make to the UK system.
Why should we trust government statistics on the cost of migration to the economy, when the government cannot even get straight the net figure of the cost of migrants on the NHS? In a recent policy announcement, David Cameron claimed that the NHS is losing between £10m to £20m to ‘health tourism’. The Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, disputed this figure straight away. In an interview with Radio 4, he claimed the figure was £200m out of the annual NHS budget of £100bn. The loss of this money, according to Jeremy Hunt, is because the NHS does not discriminate between its treatment of a person who is a foreigner and UK national. In short, the government’s claim is that it is the lack of discrimination against non-EEA and non EU-migrants that has led to health tourism.
This is absolutely not true. Firstly, the UKBA has a provision in its immigration rules for temporary migrants who want to come to the UK to access health treatment. The section of UKBA rules on a visitor coming for private medical treatment explain that “If you want to come to the UK for a short time to receive treatment for a medical condition, you can apply as a visitor for private medical treatment. You will not be able to receive treatment from the National Health Service.” In this regard, I believe this provision provides a hindrance for those migrants whose sole purpose to come to the UK is to come to receive treatment. I think migrants who are here as international students, business visitors or skilled workers do not constitute health tourists. Secondly, certain categories of migrants, such as international students, make significant contributions and add value to their immediate local society and economic system through taxation. This contribution will negate their cost to the NHS.
It is estimated that the international student market in the UK is worth up to £40 billion, while the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills statistics indicate that Overseas students are estimated to bring £8bn a year into the economy. These figures are expected to rise to £16.8bn by 2025. As the government continues to cut spending for universities and colleges in the UK, overseas students have become an essential source of income. Besides the revenue-based benefits to universities and colleges, overseas students, and any family and friends who come to visit them, provide additional, positive, trickle-down effects on UK economic growth. They trigger many kinds of employment opportunities in their local communities such as private tutoring, travelling, language schools, hotels, B&Bs, restaurants, retail outlets, clubs, pubs, cinema and the housing market.
In December, Home Secretary Theresa May said that consular staff would interview more than 100,000 prospective students in an attempt to prevent bogus applicants entering the country. May’s comments followed the introduction of new limitations on students’ right to work during and after their studies [sic]. Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of Universities UK, rightly said that this is an inappropriate barrier for international students: “We must make sure that both the government and universities promote a compelling case internationally for the quality of our universities, and make explicit that the UK welcomes international students.”
What I find most dehumanising and humiliating is that, despite the institutional commodification of international students, where universities and colleges are viciously competing over potential students from overseas, we are wrongly accused of ‘milking the system’. Despite the enormous contribution from overseas students to the social and economic system, we are treated as ‘cash cows’.
I am from Nigeria, and two years ago I studied a degree in Economics and International Relations at a UK university. I had very high motivation and aspirations, and my fundamental drive was to acquire knowledge that I could use on my return to Nigeria. I hoped to develop and improve my country’s general standard of living and levels of social justice by helping my nation to develop ideas around combining its human resources with its abundant natural resources.
Unfortunately I was diagnosed with chronic liver illness caused by Hepatitis B in 2009 while still studying at the University of Sussex. I cannot return to Nigeria because there is no available medical monitoring and treatment for my condition, which I need to stay alive.
What is most agonising for me is the lost of my two beloved siblings in Nigeria to the same chronic illness a year ago. Both died in the space of four months. Whilst grieving for my siblings, and as my health deteriorates, I am facing the reality that I might die of this manageable virus. This has caused my mental health to spiral out of control and my depression has made me feel suicidal. Constantly battling the challenges that come with my migration status makes me feel that I have lost faith in humanity. I feel that I am imploding emotionally and psychologically.
Meanwhile, the media are hyping up gossip around the perception of migrants in politics and in society, as parasites that have to be contained, without considering our socio-economic contribution to the system.
Most times in the morning getting out of bed is a seemingly impossible task for me, lying in bed motionless with low energy, disoriented, fatigued and unable to get up. Staring at the ceiling hoping for God’s miracle. Strangely, I have come to terms with the fact that I am in a totally different facet of my life, which has put me face to face with the reality of my lifespan degenerating and gradually passing away. It is very worrying and scary too, particularly when you feel you are between the devil and deep blue seas and completely out of luck.
There are many people out there with chronic health conditions who are in similar legal immigration situations. I am reminded of the case Ama Sumani, a Ghanaian widow who was bed ridden with cancer in the hand of the draconian UKBA. She judicially battled for the right to life, to stay alive for her children, but her case was dismissed by the Home Office simply because she had not updated her contact information after moving. While on the sick bed in the University Hospital of Wales in Cardiff, receiving treatment for terminal cancer, she was removed and deported by the UKBA. Three months after her deportation she died in Ghana. The medical journal the Lancet described her removal from hospital by immigration officials as “atrocious barbarism”.
Many times, I have tried to calculate how much time I have left in this world. World Health Organisation estimate that people which chronic liver disease predicated by Hepatitis and without access to medical monitoring and treatment, mostly die at the 35. So, say I have 5 more years to live. I have estimated that I have 14,600 hours of daylight left. Amid this thought, the question that keeps popping back into my mind is what will I do with it? I do not know, particularly in a situation where I have to deal with occurring debilitating symptoms such as sickness, nausea, vomiting, fatigue, itchy skin, weakness of the limbs, loss of appetite, constipation leading to severe painful bleeding and discomfort over the liver area and on the other hand dealing with depression. It invariably dries up my inspiration and runs down my motivation.
The UK Border Agency must review its rules for FLR(O) applications made on medical grounds, which set an abstract, high threshold, particularly for vulnerable migrants who have a medical condition. Migration has not only greatly contributed economically to the UK – migrants themselves have also socially contributed to their communities as citizens. We must stop this pattern of humiliation. Please stop deporting people like me to our deaths.
1. Sign the petition. Forward it to two of your contacts:
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• Please quote Luqman’s home office reference number: O1103504
Theresa May, MP
Secretary of State for the Home Office
2 Marsham Street
020 7035 4745 (00 44 20 7035 4745 if you are faxing from outside UK)
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