THE case of an assistant nurse refused British citizenship due to his volunteer work could set a “worrying precedent” for UK charities, according to the British Red Cross.
Olivier Mondeke Monongo passed the required test but had his application turned down by the Home Office because of his “bad character”.
The Pentecostal minister arrived in the UK as a refugee from the Republic of Congo in 2002 and was granted temporary leave to remain eight years later. His status changed in 2013 when he was given indefinite leave to remain.
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However, officials refused to award British citizenship because Mondeke Monongo – an NHS assistant mental health nurse and court interpreter – had undertaken volunteer work with the British Red Cross and Bridgeton Citizens Advice Bureau. They said the father-of-five had failed to adhere to an immigration condition which required him to seek official permission to take on unpaid work.
Mondeke Monongo said he thought there “must be a mistake” and yesterday the British Red Cross agreed, insisting the French speaker had not broken the rules by helping asylum seekers in Glasgow find their families back home through their international tracing service.
This is because he would have required a contract to do unpaid work for them, making that distinct from the informal volunteering carried out.
The charity fears Mondeke Monongo’s case may set a precedent that could seriously affect the voluntary sector and is seeking urgent clarification from the Home Office.
There are currently 450,000 voluntary organisations in Scotland and estimates suggest volunteers gave 162 million hours of help worth £2.6 billion in 2012. Volunteer’s Week, which celebrates their contributions, began on Wednesday and organisers Volunteer Scotland want to attract more people from “diverse” backgrounds to take part. A spokesperson said: “As part of the world’s biggest volunteering organisation, the British Red Cross is proud that we offer volunteering opportunities across the UK, including to people who are seeking asylum here.
“The British Red Cross adheres to the Home Office rules in relation to how we engage with volunteers who are going through the asylum process. The Home Office makes a clear distinction between volunteering and voluntary work. During the asylum process, which can take years, volunteering is entirely legal.
“Volunteering provides people who are awaiting a decision on their asylum application the opportunity to use their skills to benefit the wider community. On a daily basis, we see the vital contribution these people make to our services.
“We are extremely concerned to hear about Mr Monongo’s case and the potentially worrying precedent this could set for the voluntary sector. We are looking into the circumstances surrounding the case as a matter of urgency.”
Despite lengthy guidance on what constitutes “good” or “bad” character and its importance within the immigration system, there is no legal definition of either term.
Meanwhile, separate guidance issued in 2014 states that volunteering “can be undertaken at any stage of the asylum process”.
However, an official letter states that Mondeke Monongo “had not complied with UK immigration laws” as a result of helping the charities in 2007. It says: “He was not allowed to enter into employment, paid or unpaid. Our records show that Mr Monongo worked voluntary [sic] for the British Red Cross and worked voluntary [sic] for Bridgeton Citizens Advice Bureau in November 2007.
“Therefore, Mr Monongo had not complied with UK immigration laws.”
Yesterday the father, who is awaiting news on his application following an intervention from his lawyer, expressed gratitude for interest in his case, saying: “I just want to say thank you.
“If the British Red Cross can write to the Home Office, that could really help me. So many people have read the story and called me, it is wonderful.”
Yesterday the Home Office said purdah rules in place ahead of the upcoming EU referendum meant it could not comment.
However, George Thomson, chief executive of Volunteer Scotland, said: “I am completely and utterly confused about why a decision would be made that would regard somebody’s volunteering, making a contribution to our society, as a matter of bad character.
“It is the opposite, it is a sign of good character that Mr Mondeke Monongo has been prepared to do that. There is quite a concern in regards to this. It gives rise to assumptions and perceptions that volunteering is a bad thing.
“There is a lack of clarity about the difference between unpaid work and volunteering that is not helpful. We must succeed in getting officialdom to see volunteering for the great thing that it is.”