TOEIC victims pitch Post Office-inspired TV Drama

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Victims of the UK Home Office TOEIC scandal are pitching a TV dramatisation of their story in an attempt to bring wider recognition of their ten-year fight for justice.

International students wrongly accused of cheating on Home Office-approved English language tests between 2011-2014 were inspired by the success of the ITV Post Office drama, which sparked public outcry and persuaded politicians to look again at an unresolved scandal concerning the national postal service’s computer systems.

They hope to shine a light on the devastating impact of “Britain’s forgotten immigration scandal” when the Home Office revoked roughly 35,000 international student visas amid allegations of cheating.

Students have begun writing workshops organised by Migrant Voice charity which has supported the victims over the past decade, and are beginning to develop a pitch with the help of a filmmaker who has worked with the charity in the past.

Director of Migrant Voice, Nazek Ramadan, expressed her frustration about how difficult it has been to make politicians and members of the public understand the catastrophic human impact of the crisis.

“For the post masters it took a drama to bring about the justice process, getting public apologies and solutions and compensation. So we thought, why not us?”

“When I watched the Post Office drama the similarities were amazing. The false accusations, the IT malfunctions, the software systems ruining people’s lives, students’ inability to prove themselves innocent…” said Ramadan.

The TOEIC scandal has seen roughly 2,500 students deported and 72,000 are known to have left the UK after being told they would be arrested if they stayed. So far, more than 3,600 students have won appeals against the Home Office but many more are still fighting to clear their names.

Legal fees have left students riddled with debt and some have fallen into destitution and homelessness with no right to work or study in the UK.

“There are tens of thousands of stories like this, so the challenge is really how we choose the ones to be included,” said Ramadan.

Currently, just over ten students are taking part in the writing workshops, though this number is rising.

One of them is Dilshad Abdul, 44, who came from Sri Lanka to study IT at the British Institute of Technology and Commerce in 2008.

“I come from a privileged background in Sri Lanka and it was a really proud moment for my family when I came to study in the UK. The allegations changed everything. I’ve done nothing wrong but I feel like I’ve broken their hearts,” said Abdul.

He was told he needed to take an English language test to start a new college in 2012; he found the Home Office-approved ETS test “easy” and didn’t notice anything amiss in the test centre.

“It’s so easy when you’re dealing with stats, and talking about cases and appeals”

It wasn’t until 2015 when Abdul’s application to remain in the UK was refused that he was made aware of the cheating allegations against him. Since then he has spent more than £17,000 on legal fees fighting the decision.

“It’s so easy when you’re dealing with stats, and talking about cases and appeals, to forget the humanity involved and the catastrophic impact on individuals,” said Patrick Lewis, a barrister who represented over 80 accused students.

“But a dramatisation can really humanise them and make people understand the randomness of the accusations… that’s why it’s so terrifying because you really think, crikey, that could be me,” Lewis added.

In 2014, a BBC investigation uncovered clear evidence of cheating in two test centres delivering ETS exams, but the Home Office’s readiness to accept the evidence from ETS that 97% cheated has since been heavily criticised. 

On ETS records, Abdul was listed as an Indian national when he is actually from Sri Lanka, and a parliamentary report from 2019 found the evidence supplied by ETS to be “confused, misleading, incorrect and unsafe”.

“I still don’t understand what happened in court. The judge and the Home Office knew the ETS data was incorrect and they still ruled against me, that was just normalised. How do they justify that I’m wrong? That’s why I really have to fight this,” said Abdul.

“All my appeals have been refused. If I left the UK the allegations would follow me. I have no option, until I clear my name I can’t even go to another country. I applied to go to the US twice but I can’t get a visa and they treat me like a criminal.”

In 2017, Abdul missed his mother’s funeral in Sri Lanka because the Home Office had his passport. “My case was ongoing and my relatives back home disowned me. They said I had disgraced and disrespected the family,” he said.

Abdul is currently living with his brother and his nephew but said he feels “guilty” and “embarrassed” about living off their charity for so long.

“I’ve felt suicidal and get chronic migraines. I’ve got a lot of PTSD and trauma and whenever I see a police car I have a panic attack because I’m scared I will be deported … Everyday I’m just trying to fix my mental and physical health.”

“If I left the UK the allegations would follow me. I have no option, until I clear my name I can’t even go to another country”

At 44, Abdul feels like he’s missed out on the best years of his life, but he still has dreams to go back to Sri Lanka after justice is served in the UK.

“All I want is my freedom and a peaceful life, that’s all I’m asking from the Home Office… I still believe in the UK justice system, but the allegations against us are wrong and that’s why I need to clear my name.”

Abdul and thousands of others are waiting on a ruling about important new evidence that was presented in court in December raising fresh questions about the Home Office’s treatment of the students.

He was inspired by the impact that the Post Office drama had to accelerate the road to justice and he hopes the same could be done for the thousands of test scandal victims.

The post TOEIC victims pitch Post Office-inspired TV Drama appeared first on The PIE News.

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