When Adam Kee* was told by the UK government that he was to be deported to Malaysia in 2011, he thought it must be a mistake. The 37-year-old had been in Britain for six years, and while he was stateless, he knew his home country would not grant him entry.
But as much as he tried to explain to the authorities that he was one of many stateless British overseas citizens (BOCs) in Britain whose cases were unresolved, border force was intent on removing him. Chaperoned by three escort officers, he was put onto a plane.
As he had anticipated, the Malaysian authorities blocked him from coming into the country. This was because he had renounced his citizenship in 2005 – a decision he says he took on the advice of both his solicitors and the Malaysian High Commission, and now regretted.
Within hours, Kee was flown back to the UK, which he describes as a “total waste of money”.
Remembering what happened, he says: “I was shocked and confused as they just said they going to deport me when I went to the Home Office for normal reporting schedule.
“They transferred me from the police station to several detention centres within a week before two long journey flights to Malaysia and back without rest, where three escorts were flying with me.
“I felt like I was being treated like a very bad criminal or maybe not even a human. I was so exhausted after the week of this unforgettably tragic journey.”
Kee is one of hundreds of former Malaysian citizens who were rendered stateless more than a decade ago when they were led to believe a BOC passport – a relic from the UK’s colonial past – would make them UK citizens.
Home Office staff have acknowledged that these individuals are “trapped” as Malaysia refuses to allow them back into the country but the UK government also refuses to grant them any form of status, leaving them unable to work and driving some into exploitation as a means of survival.
Others have been detained in immigration centres and later released because there was no prospect of removing them, while two people – one being Kee – are known to have been deported and then immediately “bounced back” from Malaysia.
Since he was released from detention, Kee has been doing poorly paid, cash-in-hand informal delivery work and is relying on friends to house him.
Describing his plight, Kee says: “It’s sad and tiring. You have to work informally and you have to survive by yourself, and when the Home Office asks you have to say you aren’t working. How do they expect us to survive?”
“I want to go back to Malaysia but I can’t. I’m stuck, I can’t go anywhere. I’m just waiting here, wasting my life away.”
Another person affected is Yan Kit, 42, who arrived to the UK in 2001 to study mechanical engineering. His problems began in 2005 when he, like Kee, was advised that he could obtain British nationality if he renounced him Malaysian citizenship.
He says he wishes to go back to Malaysia, where his wife lives, but he says the Malaysian authorities have told him directly that there is no route for him to be granted residency.
The 42-year-old, who lives with his uncle as he is unable to find a landlord who will rent to him without UK status, was arrested in 2015 by immigration officers during a raid on the garage where he was working.
“They tried to contact the Malaysian government to deport me, but they said they couldn’t deport me because I wasn’t a Malaysian citizen anymore. So in the end the Home Office let me out again. They did nothing to help me resolve the situation,” he says.
“I haven’t been able to work since then. Now I just sit at home. The worst thing is every month I have to go and report with the UK border agency, but it means nothing. They just write another date on the letter and let you go. If I ask questions, they can’t tell me what’s happening. They just give me the date for my next report time.”
Kit says that while he is able to visit his wife in Malaysia on visit visas, these only last up to one month, and the travel is expensive. He adds: “If I could get back my Malaysian citizenship, I would go back.”
Liew Teh, another person affected by the issue, says he was shocked when, in 2009, he was told by a job agency that he could not be employed anywhere due to his immigration status.
The Telford resident, 38, who completed his engineering master’s degree in the UK in 2005, had applied for British citizenship after renouncing his Malaysian passport on the advice of his solicitor.
“I was studying for my degree, and my life just stopped there, not moving forward. I haven’t been able to use my skills. I wanted to pursue my dream, my career, but everything turned into a mess,” he says.
“I’ve been very depressed. I can’t go back to see my parents, because I fear I won’t be able to come back. I can’t get into a relationship or anything, because everything is stuck.”
Teh says that, no longer able to afford a solicitor, he has been fighting to resolve the issue on his own, and that speaking out to the press was his last resort.
He adds: “Thankfully I have some friends supporting me, but I can’t rely on them forever. Something needs to be done so I can live my life.”
A Home Office spokesperson said: “The Home Office will work with Malaysian British Overseas Citizens who have concerns over their immigration status.”
*This person’s name has been changed