British authorities snatch a dream and future from a Nepali student unjustly

Photo: The Guardian

‘Treated like a criminal’: Nepali student wrongly detained at UK border loses University place’, the Guardian headline explains the ordeal and injustice a Nepali student, Sulav Khadka, was meted out  by the British immigration authorities.

The unjust handling and humiliating treatment that Khadka was subjected to, cost him a university scholarship, and a dream he had cultivated over the years.

Khadka flew to the UK to take up a university scholarship, but he was detained at the border and held in custody for 12 days after being unable to answer detailed questions about his course, according to the Guardian daily.

The authorities apparently treated him like a ‘Fake student’ by the Border Police Officers, when he landed at Manchester Airport in October. “The 23-year-old, from Nepal, had a valid visa, proof of his university place and paperwork showing he had paid his first year’s fees in full. But, on arrival in the UK, he was interrogated about intricate details of his course, including being asked to list the titles of the six modules he would be studying,’ Guardian reported.

According to the media report, The Border Force accused him of having fake documents, citing a spelling error in a letter from his bank in Nepal as proof, and adding that it was “inconceivable” that such a “prestigious financial institution” would issue documents of “such risible quality”.

However, the Border Force letter itself was full of spelling mistakes. “You have liittle [sic] knowledge of your porposed [sic] course and I am therefore drawn to the conclusion that you have little or no interest in it,” it says, misspelling “little” and “proposed”, the newspaper report said.

As reported in the newspaper, the Border force official also cited a discrepancy over the amount Khadka had paid. While he said he had paid £9,250 before his arrival, the letter from Border Force says that the university admissions office claimed he had paid only £6,616.

A spokeswoman for York St John University denied incorrect information had been provided to Border Force and said it had provided a “standard response” to questions about whether Khadka had paid 50% of his first-year fee – the minimum amount required to secure his place.

‘It subsequently supplied documents supporting Khadka’s account but said that, even after sending these, he was detained for a further 10 days.’ He was eventually released by the Home Office, which gave him an apology letter saying it had “carefully reviewed” his case and that an error had been made.

But by the time it had realised its mistake, Khadka had missed the cut-off for enrolling in his university. When he arrived at his university campus in York on 24 October, he was told it was a week past the late enrolment deadline and that his sponsorship had been withdrawn so he would have to return next year.

“He is now in limbo, having borrowed thousands of pounds to cover flights, fees and relocation costs, and faces returning home in debt without a clear route to stay in the UK.’

Asked why the university had not held Khadka’s place open for him in the exceptional circumstances, the spokeswoman said that it had been required to report all non-enrolments to the government on 17 October. “On this date, Sulav was still in detention in a holding facility and we understood that he was being returned to Nepal,” she said. She added that starting the course late was “not in a student’s interests”.

According to the newspaper, the University told Khadka in response to his email that it could not change the decision and advised him to “return to Nepal soon” so that he does not “run the risk of overstaying when your visa gets curtailed”. It also offered to pay his visa application fees for September 2023.

In a comment to the Observer, the university said it had since offered to help with travel costs and temporary accommodation, as well as a tuition-fee refund, but that Khadka had not yet accepted this.

“I was treated like a criminal but I did nothing wrong. I couldn’t understand why he detained me. They gave me lots of reasons but I could justify every reason they gave me,” Khadka said. “I showed them my documents and they even called my university. I had all the papers, but they didn’t believe me. This will have a big effect on my future.”

The experience of being detained, threatened with deportation and blocked from his studies has been traumatising for Khadka, who was to be the first in his family to study abroad. He says he cried each night in detention while waiting to learn of his fate.

It raises questions about why he was detained at all and will add to fears about increasingly hostile treatment for international students. It comes amid reports that the government intends to curb immigration figures by reducing the number of international students, a plan described by the National Union of Students as “hugely cruel”.

Fizza Qureshi, chief executive of the Migrants’ Rights Network, described the case as a “genuinely appalling situation” that shows how “hostile environment policies are embedded in the education system”.

The Home Office was asked detailed questions about Khadka’s case but did not answer them, saying it did not routinely comment on individual cases. A spokesperson said: “We have a crucial role in keeping the UK and its citizens safe. Border Force’s priority is to maintain a secure border and we will not compromise on security.”

When the Observer pointed out that Khadka had never posed a security threat, the spokesperson said: “Thank you for your questions, however this is our statement”, as mentioned in the newspaper.