London: Britain's Home Secretary Sajid Javid on Thursday issued an apology for the UK government's use of forced DNA tests on some immigrant communities, including Gurkhas, to determine their claim to British citizenship.
The relatives of Gurkhas and Afghan nationals who worked for the UK's armed forces were among those caught up in the scandal, which involved the UK Home Office illegally demanding DNA samples and denying their application to remain in the UK if such a sample had not been provided.
"I want to take this opportunity to apologise to those who have been affected by this practice. The law in this context is that the provision of DNA evidence should always be voluntary and never mandatory," Javid, the son of Pakistani migrants, said in a statement in the House of Commons.
A coinciding publication of a review into the scandal revealed that at least 449 demands for DNA were issued to migrants, including 51 to Gurkha soldiers - Nepalese nationals who had served in the British Army for around 200 years.
Javid said he had set up a new taskforce for anyone who felt they had been wrongly required to provide DNA evidence for an immigration application and ordered a broader review into Home Office processes to ensure the department was "fit for the modern world".
"I know that the immigration system is operated by many highly committed people but we must make sure that the structures and processes they use are fit for the modern world and fit for a new immigration system which we will be bringing in after we leave the European Union," he said.
Under current immigration laws, migrants applying to live and work in the UK on the basis of a family relationship can volunteer to provide DNA evidence to prove kinship in support an application. However, in June it emerged that the provision of DNA evidence had been made a requirement and was "not simply a request" in a number of family visa applications.
The Home Office review found that DNA evidence was requested using "inappropriate wording" in 398 cases as part of an operation investigating fraud, of which 83 applications were refused.
Seven of those cases were refused solely for not providing DNA evidence and six had rejections where the refusal to provide DNA was referenced. These 13 cases are now being reviewed by the Home Office.
"I am determined to get to the bottom of how and why, in some cases, people were compelled to provide DNA in the first place. Across our immigration system, no-one should face a demand to supply DNA evidence and no-one should have been penalised for not providing it," Javid told Parliament.
His apology comes in the wake of another major immigration scandal surrounding the Windrush generation of migrants, who came to the UK in the 1970s but were wrongfully denied their citizenship rights due to lack of documentary evidence. Javid has previously committed to reviewing the immigration system in an attempt to make it less "hostile".
"I will build an immigration system which provides control but is also fair, humane and fully-compliant with the law," he reiterated in his latest statement this week.
The UK's Opposition Labour Party called on the government to determine how far back the "illegal" practice of forced DNA evidence went back.
"Members across the House will no doubt be shocked to learn that amongst the very first victims of his abuse were Gurkhas and Afghans, men and women who put their lives at risk to keep us safe," said shadow home secretary Diane Abbott.