Man’s £100,000 NHS debt wiped as he gets refugee status after 11-year fight

A man who was left permanently paralysed when he was unable to afford life-saving medication as an asylum seeker has been granted refugee status and had £100,000 of NHS debt wiped.

Simba Mujakachi, 32, has said he cannot celebrate his legal victory, which comes after 11 gruelling years of applications and appeals, because he has been left in a precarious financial position and could soon be facing eviction from his home.

The personal trainer moved to Sheffield from Zimbabwe as a child, where his father, Victor, is wanted by the government for speaking out against former leader Robert Mugabe.

In June 2019, while going through asylum appeals, Mujakachi suffered a stroke that left him comatose. When he awoke, he was paralysed on his left side, unable to talk or eat and handed a £100,000 bill for his treatment.

His stroke could have been prevented by relatively inexpensive medication for a blood clotting condition that, as a refused asylum seeker at the time, he was not entitled to on the NHS.

Having now received refugee status and had the debt cancelled, Mujakachi said he felt unable to forget his ordeal.

He said: “It’s actually a bit worse now in the sense that you’re now in the system but they’re still kicking you while you’re down. On one note you can be grateful that you have immigration freedom but you can’t do anything with that freedom.

“There’s no relief whatsoever. Every day is a constant fight. I can’t fake being happy when I’m not.”

Though he recovered some physical movement after the stroke, he is unable to work because of his disability. He has been told he is not entitled to universal credit because of his partner’s “income” from her student loan.

Mujakachi and his partner, Melissa Smith, a full-time English language and literature student, now owe £3,000 in rent arrears to Sheffield city council.

He has had help from the charity Migrants Organise to fill out the application for personal independence payments (PIP), which is likely to take a few months to be processed, but the debt hanging over him is making him pessimistic about the future.

He said: “I would have loved to have been jumping for joy but with the stress of everything that’s going on, I can’t justify even smiling right now.”

While it would not comment on Mujakachi’s case, a Home Office spokesperson told the Guardian: “Anyone granted refugee status can work, access benefits and the NHS in line with the rest of the population. Refugee integration loans are also available to assist people in settling in the UK.”

Mujakachi said: “There’s no system set up to help. I’ve been offered an integration loan but that’s not something you want when you’re already in debt.

“It’s a shame to have leadership as we do at the moment, ones who don’t respect the laws and rules. What precedent are they setting for the country right now? Everyone is confused and afraid.”

This year marks 10 years of the government’s controversial hostile environment policy, a range of measures introduced by the then home secretary, Theresa May, to make living in the UK difficult for those without legal status.

Campaigners against this policy say it causes unnecessary harm and suffering to thousands of people fleeing violence and oppression who are trying to make a home in the UK.

Mujakachi said: “The hostile environment has many tentacles and many ways to hurt you. [The government] should be liable for the 11 years that they wasted and for me ending up disabled. All this was caused by the hostile environment policies.”

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