Last updateTue, 17 Mar 2015 2pm

COMMENT: Nick Clegg's Folly and Bollywood Fried Chicken

Two weeks before the increasingly beleaguered Nick Clegg got on a stage to announce his ingenious plan to introduce "security bonds" to deter overstayers and illegal immigrants, I was contacted by a former officer of the Sri Lankan army.

The officer - let's call him Captain Daminda - had an equally ingenious plan.

After the end of Sri Lanka's Civil War in 2009, exhausted after helping to destroy one of the world's most ruthless terrorist organizations, the good captain had decided he needed a clean break and not be stuck building new highways or firebombing newspaper offices in post-war Sri Lanka.

So he applied for a student visa to study management in London, writing a cover letter to the visa office outlining how a new, British diploma will help him secure his family's future.

The application process was meticulously planned and expensive.  

An ancestral plot of land just north of Colombo was sold off as was jewellery belonging to his wife and mother, with the proceeds transferred to a bank account and produced as evidence that the captain is able to pay for the two-year course as well as for food and lodging in London.

Having secured his student visa, Captain Daminda arrived in England in 2011 and, without so much as a cursory visit to the 'college' in North London, headed straight for Coventry where he found work that paid little but offered plenty of hours, and lodged with an old friend.

In 2012 he even managed to bring over his 4-year-old son and wife who swiftly began a successful food business catering to Sri Lankan families starved of authentic dishes from back home.

Earlier this year however, the UK Border Agency tracked the family down and began the long process of deporting the trio back to Sri Lanka.

But the resourceful Captain Daminda - a Sinhala Buddhist - had another plan up his sleeve.  

As soon as he was caught, he applied for political asylum in Britain, stating he would face harassment if returned to Sri Lanka for his "outspoken views" regarding the conduct of the Sri Lankan military during the final days of the war.  
Captain Daminda, a patriot and a distinguished military officer, was willing to level bogus allegations of war crimes against his former employers in a bid to stay on in the UK.

The allegations however, needed to be applied retrospectively, and that's where I was supposed to come in.

The plan was for me to write up several carefully fabricated pieces about a disillusioned officer whistle-blowing on the conduct of soldiers and fellow officers during the last days of the war and inserting the back-dated articles on a Sri Lankan website where the Captain professed "to know someone".

The articles would in turn be produced as evidence that - given the Sri Lankan administration's less than benevolent treatment of its critics - Captain Daminda's life would be in very serious trouble if he were to go back to Colombo.

In another example of the extraordinary efforts people will go to, a source told me how a number of former Sri Lankan Tamil asylum seekers, now British citizens, helped get a report published by a leading rights organization detailing harassment of Tamils visiting Sri Lanka in a bid to bolster the cases of asylum seekers who had made their claims after the end of the war.

These and numerous other cases illustrate the lengths that desperate yet resourceful human beings will go to in search of a life that is a little bit more bearable.

They also illustrate the utter futility of Mr Clegg's plan to charge immigrants £1000 as a surety against overstaying.

Because by the end of what will surely be an epic journey, Captain Daminda would have spent twenty times that amount securing a stamp on his passport saying "Indefinite Leave to Remain in the United Kingdom".

What Mr Clegg and his public school-educated elite - irrespective of their previously left-wing, immigrant-friendly policies -  don't realize is the fact that for a man who is willing to risk the very real possibility of never being able to return to his homeland, a £1000 deposit is not a deterrent but just an extra 200 hours in front of a chicken fryer; a prospect that may be abhorrent to you, me and Nick Clegg but not for Captain Daminda.

The alarming thing for Mr Clegg and others from the coalition, scrambling to avoid a complete whitewash come the 2015 election, is that there are, quite literally, hundreds of thousands of Captain Damindas in the United Kingdom who, having arrived here illegally or otherwise will go to any length to stay.

Another factor is, once the UKBA (eventually) gets wind of the fact that a "genuine", security deposit-paying visitor has become the Sous Chef at Bollywood Fried Chicken, it will proceed to spend ten times the deposit to track said illegal down, charter a plane for his return trip, pay for a return ticket for the accompanying UKBA officer and spend a further £600 as an one-off payment to help the immigrant resume life back home.

There are 15,000 other things that Mr Clegg and his minions can look to do, to deal with illegal immigration that's got Middle England so concerned: improved vetting of applicants at overseas missions, overhauling numerous systems - from welfare to law - that are easily exploitable, perhaps even re-evaluating foreign policies that keep nations subjugated and people poverty-stricken, to name but a few.

But attempting to stop illegal immigration by imposing a £1000 security deposit is like trying to dig the Crossrail tunnel using a toothpick.

Nothing's really going to happen.

As for me, well, despite the promise of a more than generous, tax-free, cash payment, I politely declined Captain Daminda's job offer.

- Viji Alles



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