The Syrian refugee hospital cleaner whose tearful tweet shamed Boris Johnson into a U-turn on migrants’ rights is a Bafta-winning filmmaker who is documenting his work on the NHS’ Covid-19 wards for his 25,000-plus Twitter and Instagram followers.
Hassan Akkad, 31, recorded a video message for the Prime Minister telling him he felt ‘stabbed in the back’ after learning low paid staff, mostly from abroad, had been barred from the UK bereavement scheme meaning their families could be deported if they die from coronavirus.
After forcing a Home Office U-turn on that issue last night, today he hit out at Mr Johnson’s ‘inhumane’ decision to charge foreign NHS staff £624-a-year from October to access NHS services themselves. The scheme will be extended to many EU nationals from January.
The PM yesterday defended the government’s Immigration Health Surcharge as ‘right’ while also revealing 321 NHS and social care workers, many who were born outside Britain, have perished after contracting Covid-19. The policy has been branded ‘immoral’ and ‘monstrous’ by his MPs today.
Critics say foreign NHS staff, from 200 countries around the globe, are being ‘charged twice’ because they also pay income tax and national insurance that funds the UK’s hospitals, GP surgeries and dentists.
Speaking to Piers Morgan on Good Morning Britain this morning on his way to work at St Bartholomew’s Hospital in east London, Mr Akkad, who says he is cleaning wards ‘to help the country through the pandemic’, insisted that the Prime Minister must now change his mind on the healthcare levy.
He said: ‘It’s unfair, it’s unjust and I would argue that it’s inhumane. For most cleaners and porters this is two weeks’ salary they have to pay to access the very same institution they are working for during the worst public health crisis in modern history’.
The photographer and filmmaker, who fled Syria in 2012 where he was imprisoned and tortured for protesting against the Assad regime, won a BAFTA award in 2017 for his BBC documentary Exodus: Our Journey to Europe charting his three-year journey to Britain via the Calais Jungle camp. He made it to Britain in 2015 on a fake passport.
This month singer Dua Lipa chose her friend Hassan as her ‘hero of 2020’ for GQ magazine, and he has been documenting his time cleaning in an east London hospital on his Twitter account, which now has 20,000 followers.
And on his popular Instagram page Mr Akkad, who is engaged to his Syrian fiancee Farah, is pictured with stars including Eddie Redmayne, Benedict Cumberbatch, Noel Fielding and Sam Smith who have supported his ‘Choose Love’ refugee rights campaign.
Hassan Akkad, pictured with Eddie Redmayne and Clemency Burton-Hill at a refugee event at the Grove in London, has become a household name after forcing the PM into a U-turn on rights for migrant NHS workers
Mr Akkad has also been pictured with Benedict Cumberbatch at a charity event and also Sam Smith at Bestival
In his award winning documentary he paid £3,500 for fake passports such as this Czech one (pictured) after attempts to get to the UK in lorries failed. He landed at Heathrow using bogus documents in 2015, where he claimed asylum at customs before settling in London
Today Syrian refugee Hassan Akkad (pictured in scrubs cleaning a toilet) said he been’stabbed in the back’ after learning low paid staff were excluded from the NHS bereavement scheme in a video message sent to the PM, forcing a U-turn last night
The Bafta-winning photographer and filmmaker, pictured with his trophy in 2017, who took a job as a cleaner at St Bartholomew’s Hospital in east London ‘to help the country through the pandemic’, has said his partner could have been deported if he dies
What is the Immigration Health Surcharge? How much is it and who pays?
Workers coming to the UK from outside the European Economic Area are required to pay the fee in order to be able to use the health service.
The NHS surcharge costs £300 per year for student visas and £400 per year for all other visa and immigration applications. It is being put up to £624-a-year from October. And from next January, it will be extended to all EU citizens who move here after Brexit is completed.
For students it is £300 a year, while for workers it is £400. The charge must also be met for dependents.
Arrivals have to pay up front for the total period of the visa they are being granted – so a two year permit would mean an £800 bill. Part-years are counted as half the charge.
Critics have questioned the need for people to pay it if the person is also paying income tax and national insurance contributions while working in the UK.
Who needs to pay?
- Any national of a country outside the European Economic Area (EEA) not in an exempted category;
- Or anyone applying for a visa to work, study or join your family in the UK for more than 6 months;
For immigration applications made from within the UK, you need to pay if:
- You’re a national of a country outside the EEA or if you’re making an immigration application for any length of time, including applications for 6 months or less.
Who does not need to pay?
- You’re applying for indefinite leave to enter or remain
- You’re a diplomat or a member of a visiting armed forces;
- You’re a dependant of a member of the UK’s armed forces or the dependant of a member of another country’s armed forces;
- You’re a family member of a European national
- You’re applying for a visa for the Isle of Man or Channel Islands
- You’re a British Overseas Territory citizen resident in the Falkland Islands
- You’re an asylum seeker
- A victim of slavery or human trafficking or domestic violence – or their relative;
But the PM is today under huge pressure to change his mind and is also facing a rebellion from his own backbenchers who also believe NHS and care workers from outside Europe should be exempt from paying the the government’s Immigration Health Surcharge, which will be extended to EU staff from January when Brexit is confirmed.
Mr Akkad added: ‘Piers when I’m in the hospital I’m observing what’s going on around me and you can see people are genuinely discouraged by these policies the government keeps coming up with. The pandemic hasn’t finished yet, all these policies are coming through and the pandemic isn’t done, these people are still risking their lives’.
Yesterday Mr Akkad, a Bafta-winning photographer and filmmaker who took a hospital cleaning job ‘to help the country through the pandemic’, fought back tears as he recorded a message for the Prime Minister after completing his shift.
He said it was a ‘betrayal’ that the lowest paid staff in the NHS had been barred from the UK bereavement scheme meaning their families could be deported if they die from coronavirus. Hours after his extraordinary message the Home Office confirmed that they had changed the policy to include all staff.
Asked about the U-turn Mr Akkad told GMB: ‘I feel very proud and honoured to have played a small role in doing this, there was a lot of pressure from the unions and alot of people spoke out including Piers, which I congratulate him for doing.
‘I went out and did that video not knowing it would be shared thousands of times and viewed by millions of people. I’m so incredibly grateful to know the public is on our side’.
Hassan Akkad arrived in Britain on September 27 2015, after completing a three-year journey after fleeing Damascus in 2012.
He had been arrested by President Assad’s secret police and tortured for protesting against the murderous regime.
In Syria he had a passion for photography and worked as a high school English teacher before fleeing with his Aunt.
He initially stayed in the Middle East, believing he could soon return to his home country, but it descended into civil war.
So instead he travelled to Turkey and then on to Europe via Greece, where he was crammed on to a packed dinghy that began sinking and was only saved when everyone on board threw all their belongings and bags into the Mediterranean.
Refugee cleaner’s message to the PM about his NHS ‘betrayal’ has been viewed 4m times
On Wednesday, Hassan Akkad posted a short clip of himself addressing the Prime Minister on Twitter in his car dressed in his scrubs expressing his feelings of shock and betrayal at being excluded from the policy.
Within the day, the Home Office confirmed the scheme had been extended to include cleaners, porters, social care and care home staff and will be effective immediately and retrospectively.
Addressing the Prime Minister, Mr Akkad said in the clip: ‘I have been really enjoying the clapping that you and your fellow ministers in the Government do every week but today however I felt betrayed, stabbed in the back.
‘I felt shocked to find out that your Government decided to exclude myself and my colleagues who work as cleaners and porters and social care workers.
‘We are all on minimum wage, you have decided to exclude us from the bereavement scheme, so if I die from coronavirus my partner isn’t allowed indefinite leave to remain.’
Mr Akkad, who is also a Bafta-award winning filmmaker and photographer, added: ‘This is your way of saying thank you to us.
‘Now I am sending you this message hoping you will reconsider because I did see a humble Boris after you were discharged from hospital, I saw a different Boris.
‘So us migrants are on the frontline doing these very demanding jobs to help this nation overcome this pandemic and the least you can do is if we die is give our families indefinite leave to remain.
‘Please reconsider and I hope to hear back from you. Thank you.’ He captioned the clip ‘I hope you can help me get this message delivered to Mr PM Boris Johnson’ and it has been viewed 3.7 million times and been retweeted nearly 50,000 times.
After travelling across Europe to Paris by train and lorry, he was then trafficked to Calais and stayed in in the camp for months, calling it a ‘graveyard of hopes’. He said: ‘I made over 50 attempts to get across on lorries, but they all failed. It was a dire experience.’
Each night he also tried swimming to clamber on to ferries and boats crossing the Channel to Britain, but always failed.
It was only when he paid £3,500 to people smugglers that he was able to enter the UK illegally, three years after leaving Syria. He was handed fake Czech and Bulgarian passports, flying from Brussels to Heathrow.
When he arrived at customs he claimed asylum and settled with a family in Brixton. Six months later he was granted right to remain in the UK for five years.
His journey was charted after the BBC game him and other migrants small cameras to film their journeys, and was made into the film Exodus: Our Journey to Europe. It was nominated for a BAFTA in 2017 and won best factual film.
Collecting the award Mr Akkad said: ‘Exodus was my yesterday, but it’s somebody’s today and tomorrow’ before breaking down as he dedicated the Bafta to all the world’s migrants and their ‘untold stories’.
Since then he has made another BBC documentary where he returned to the Calais Jungle to see if life had changed since his time there. He has also campaigned for the rights of refugees and has used social media to be critical of Government policy and former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s refusal to back air strikes on Assad.
He has also spoken all over the world about his experiences as a migrant, and looks to be documenting his time in the NHS during the coronavirus pandemic.
Downing Street today confirmed the planned increase in the surcharge from £400 a year to £624 would go ahead despite the opposition within the Conservative ranks to the fee being levied on overseas NHS and care staff.
Tory peer and former party chairman Lord Patten called the Government’s position ‘appalling’ and ‘monstrous’.
Former Conservative Party vice-chairman Sir Roger Gale warned Prime Minister Boris Johnson that not to waive the current surcharge ‘would rightly be perceived as mean-spirited, doctrinaire and petty’.
Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee chairman William Wragg called for an immediate change in policy, adding ‘now is the time for a generosity of spirit towards those who have done so much good’.
The senior Tories echoed calls for the Government to scrap the NHS surcharge for migrant care workers coming from outside the European Economic Area.
Mr Akkad, pictured with his fiancee Farah Haddad, who is also from Syria, has been demanding the Government to be more open to welcoming refugees to the UK, called the Choose Love campaign
This month popstar Dua Lipa chose her friend Hassan as her ‘hero of 2020’ for GQ magazine because of his work to clean on the Covid-19 wards
Hassan with friends including Noel Fielding in London, which was captioned ‘My peeps’
Tory revolt against Boris Johnson’s refusal to drop NHS charge for foreign health workers
Boris Johnson is facing a furious Tory revolt over his refusal to drop the NHS surcharge for foreign health and care workers today – as experts dismissed suggestions the move would cost nearly a billion pounds.
Senior Conservatives demanded that the government show ‘generosity of spirit’ amid an outcry over those on the frontline of the coronavirus battle being forced to pay.
Tory MP William Wragg, chair of the Public Administration select committee, led a backlash from Mr Johnson’s own side overnight.
He tweeted: ‘I will support the nhs fee exemption for migrant nhs and care workers. Now is the time for a generosity of spirit towards those who have done so much good. I am sure that @conservatives colleagues will be supportive.’
Security Minister James Brokenshire defended the PM’s position this morning, saying the situation is ‘complicated’.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘Well, I think, on the issue of the health surcharge, firstly it is obviously there to provide funding for the NHS and the basic principle that if you come to this country, that you are working, that you make that contribution.
‘But we have very firmly listened to the sort of situation in relation to the NHS. We’ve already put in place extensions to visas for health professionals, NHS health professionals, where they do not pay the NHS surcharge in that situation.’
Labour, the Scottish National Party and the Royal College of Nursing have expressed the view that health workers should be exempt from the ‘unfair’ charge.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said: ‘It is grossly hypocritical to clap our carers one day and then charge them to use the NHS the next.
‘Labour is calling for an end to this injustice and we would urge all Tory MPs who agree with us to back us.’
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said the scheme had raised £900 million since it was launched in 2015 – and the increase was a key manifesto pledge by the Tories.
The spokesman said: ‘Income from the surcharge is distributed between the four devolved health administrations in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland for the purpose of health spending.
‘Money that we put into our health service has a direct impact on improving people’s lives and ultimately saving people’s lives.’
He added that the increase ‘was a very clear manifesto commitment made by the Government’.
‘It’s on the basis of that manifesto that the Prime Minister won a significant majority.’
Security Minister James Brokenshire said Mr Johnson was ‘right’ to reject the calls on Wednesday as the issue is ‘complicated’.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘The situation in relation to those people working within different functions in the NHS is more complicated because of the visa and immigration system that they are likely to be within.
‘In other words, if you are a doctor and nurse then you are on a specific visa when we have that direct contact with the NHS trust.
‘For those in social care, it is more disparate, which makes it more complicated and more challenging in terms of the situation.’
He added that the Government ‘continue to keep this under review’.
In his BBC film Exodus, he filmed the moment his packed dinghy began filling with water as he travelled to Europe via Greece
He paid £3,500 for fake passports such as this Czech one after attempts to get to the UK in lorries failed. He landed at Heathrow (pictured) using bogus documents in September 2015, where he claimed asylum
A year later he accepted a BAFTA for Best Factual Series in 2017 – for Exodus: Our Journey to Europe, charting his dangerous journey
Are you sure about that Boris? IFS says exempting foreign NHS workers from UK healthcare levy would only cost £90m after PM said ‘£900m’
Boris Johnson’s reasoning for refusing to exempt foreign NHS workers from the healthcare surcharge began unravelling tonight when a top economist slapped down his suggestion it would cost hundreds of millions.
The Prime Minister hailed the £400 annual fee for migrants as a £900million revenue raiser, as he swatted away calls for the government to waive the levy for NHS staff from overseas.
But Paul Johnson, director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies, said scrapping the charge for these workers would only shave off a tenth of the total revenue raised.
He put the cost to the Exchequer at nearer £90million, raising eyebrows as to why the PM used the overall £900million figure during Prime Minister’s Questions.
The Government’s NHS bereavement scheme was launched last month and is open to almost all health and social care workers who have died after caring for those contracted Covid-19.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the Government will pay £60,000 to families of those who die in service. And those from outside Europe would also receive indefinite leave to remain.
Those included in the scheme were any full-time and part-time employees, agency and locum workers, as well as retired staff who returned or students who had taken up paid frontline roles to support the coronavirus response.
But the Home Office has since confirmed that social care workers, hospital cleaners and porters, either employed directly by hospitals or agencies, are not included. Many of these lowest paid workers are from outside the EU.
The death toll among NHS staff has hit 181 and among care workers it is 131, Mr Johnson revealed in PMQs in the House of Commons this afternoon. ‘I know the thoughts of the whole House are with their families and friends,’ he said.
But the Prime Minister came under fire from Labour MPs and nursing unions after he refused to back calls for care workers to be exempted from the Immigration Health Surcharge – saying the charge was ‘right’.
Ministers have been accused of ‘penalising’ the very healthcare workers who for the past three months have been treating many of Britain’s coronavirus patients on the NHS frontline.
In a bruising PMQs encounter with Labour leader Keir Starmer, Mr Johnson was urged to rethink the charge.
But the Prime Minister defended the policy, saying: ‘We must look at the realities – this is a great national service, it’s a national institution, it needs funding and those contributions actually help us to raise about £900 million, and it’s very difficult in the current circumstances to find alternative sources.
‘So with great respect to the point (Sir Keir Starmer) makes, I do think that is the right way forward.’
Approaching 200 NHS health and care workers have died on the frontline during the coronavirus pandemic
Mr Starmer said he was ‘disappointed’ by the response and promised to table an amendment to the Immigration Bill to exempt NHS and care workers from the charge.
A nursing union has said it is ‘alarmed’ to learn there are no plans to exempt foreign health workers from the NHS surcharge.
The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has written to the Home Secretary Priti Patel urging her to reconsider the decision and waive the charge ‘as a matter of urgency’ as it ramped up calls it has been making on the subject for two years.
Under immigration rules, workers coming to the UK from outside the European Economic Area are required to pay the fee in order to be able to use the health service.
The NHS surcharge costs £300 per year for student visas and £400 per year for all other visa and immigration applications, according to the Government’s website.
A migrant’s dependants usually need to pay the same amounts.
Dame Donna Kinnair, chief executive and general secretary of the union which represents 450,000 health and care workers across the UK, said: ‘We are urging the Home Secretary to reconsider and waive this charge for healthcare staff from overseas as a matter of urgency.
‘We have already received devastating accounts from members who are struggling to pay the charge, and the impact that it is having on their families’ lives.
‘The current pandemic has served to reaffirm the importance of our internationally educated staff.
‘Without them here, patient care would be at risk.
‘This charge undermines the dedicated care overseas health and care staff provide to us all.’
New Zealand nurse Jenny McGee, 35, (pictured) and Portuguese nurse Luis Pitarma cared for the PM in hospital
Mr Johnson’s video message from inside no 10 after he was discharged from hospital. He singled out his foreign nurses for praise during his message. But the Government has ’no current plans’ to review the policy known as the immigration health surcharge (IHS)
Carlos Sia (pictured left), who worked for the Worcestershire Acute Hospitals NHS Trust, died on Friday, May 15, in the hospital where he worked. Tributes have also been paid to Neil Ruch (right), the first paramedic from the East of England Ambulance Service to lose his life to Covid-19
Sadeq Elhowsh, 58, an orthopaedic surgeon who worked at St Helens and Knowley Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, died from coronavirus. Pictured with his sons
Josephine Peter, a nurse at Southport and Formby District General Hospital, leaves behind her husband Thabo, her two children Bongani and Buhle and a granddaughter
Juliet Alder, who worked at the Hammersmith and Fulham Mental Health Unit, died from coronavirus aged 58 on Tuesday, April 14
The latest NHS and care worker death figures come as tributes flooded in for the two most recent healthcare workers known to have died after contracting Covid-19.
Khulisani Nkala, 46, worked as a mental health nurse for the Leeds and York Partnership NHS Foundation Trust and died from the virus on Friday
Carlos Sia, who worked for the Worcestershire Acute Hospitals NHS Trust, died on Friday, May 15, in the hospital where he worked.
The ‘much-loved’ 62-year-old, who had worked for the trust for five years, had spent several weeks in intensive care.
He has a wife and daughter in the UK, and three sons living in the Philippines.
In a letter to staff, chief executive Matthew Hopkins said: ‘His quiet, gentle and respectful nature, his generosity of spirit, his sense of humour and his calming influence also made him popular with patients.
‘We have lost a valued member of our Trust family – and in Carlos’s case, the word ‘family’ has a special relevance as his wife Cindy works on Avon 2 as a healthcare assistant and his daughter Clair is a nurse on our acute stroke unit.
‘Cindy and Clair are particularly in our thoughts at this sad time, as are all Carlos’s colleagues who worked alongside him and those who cared for him through his illness.’
Manjeet Riyat died at the Royal Derby Hospital on Monday (University Hospitals of Derby and Burton NHS Trust/PA)
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