Medical ethics: UK uses data from doctors to find migrants

In this photo taken on March 23, 2018, Farooq, who declined to give his last name poses for a portrait outside a health surgery in London. (AP)
Updated 02 April 2018
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Medical ethics: UK uses data from doctors to find migrants

LONDON: To track down people in Britain who may have broken immigration rules, the government is turning to a new and controversial source of information: Doctors.
In letters made public last month, politicians sparred with immigration officials over a data-sharing agreement quietly signed in 2016 that gives the government access to personal information collected by the country’s family doctors. Medical details are excluded.
A parliamentary health committee condemned the situation as “unacceptable,” calling for the agreement to be suspended. But Britain’s immigration department has dismissed those concerns, arguing that such data sharing allows the UK to remove people “who might pose a danger to the public.”
Doctors who work with refugees and asylum seekers have described it as a major breach of medical ethics, saying it isn’t up to physicians to enforce immigration rules.
“We understand the government has a job to do, but going into health records to get patient information is not OK,” said Lucy Jones, director of programs at Doctors of the World UK. “The idea that any patient information is being shared with a government body immediately breaks their trust in a doctor-patient relationship.”
Several leading medical organizations, including the Royal College of General Practitioners, Public Health England and the General Medical Council, have all slammed the data-sharing deal, saying it could worsen the health of vulnerable people and drive disease outbreaks underground, hurting health care for all.
Dalia Omer, a refugee from Sudan who was granted asylum in the UK in February after nearly two years, sought medical help several times while awaiting the government’s decision. She said had she known about the data sharing arrangement, she would not have been as forthcoming.
“If I knew the doctors could share information with the Home Office, I would not tell them everything,” she said, referring to the British department that oversees immigration and security. She said she might even lie about certain details to protect herself.
Dr. Kitty Worthing, a London-based doctor with the group Docs Not Cops, said “the cornerstone of the doctor-patient relationship is confidentiality and this data-sharing is a direct breach of that.” She said when she’s advised people that their personal information could be shared with immigration officials “their reaction is always fear.”
Elsewhere in Europe, many countries have a strict firewall that stops information gathered by health services from being disclosed to other government agencies. Germany’s data protection office said regulations prohibit any blanket sharing of such information. In France, no data obtained by doctors is shared with the Interior Ministry.
Some health experts said it was critical that some types of health care are available to everyone in the UK, regardless of their immigration status.
“With HIV treatment, it makes much more sense to treat everybody with HIV, because treatment lowers the level of virus in your blood so you can’t pass it on,” said Kat Smithson of the National AIDS Trust. “If people are not diagnosed because they’re not accessing health care, they’re not aware they’re living with HIV, which means they’re far more likely to pass it on to somebody else.”
The British government, however, says protecting its borders outweighs those concerns.
“We believe that the release of (patient) information is lawful and proportionate action in pursuit of the effective enforcement of the UK’s immigration policy,” wrote Caroline Noakes, the minister of state for immigration and James O’Shaughnessy, parliamentary undersecretary of state for health, responding to lawmaker’s concerns.


Filipino rebel chiefs become officials under peace deal

President Rodrigo Duterte, political leaders and officials flash the peace sign following Friday’s oath-taking ceremony in Manila. (AP)
Updated 22 February 2019
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Filipino rebel chiefs become officials under peace deal

  • It is a very difficult and challenging process, says MILF spokesman

MANILA: Some of the fiercest Muslim rebel commanders in the southern Philippines were sworn in Friday as administrators of a new Muslim autonomous region in a delicate milestone to settle one of Asia’s longest-raging rebellions.

President Rodrigo Duterte led a ceremony to name Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) leader Murad Ebrahim and some of his top commanders as among 80 administrators of a transition government for the five-province region called Bangsamoro.

About 12,000 combatants with thousands of firearms are to be demobilized starting this year under the peace deal.  Thousands of other guerrillas would disarm if agreements under the deal would be followed, including providing the insurgents with livelihood to help them return to normal life.

“We would like to see an end of the violence,” Duterte said. 

“After all, we go to war and shoot each other counting our victories not by the progress or development of the place but by the dead bodies that were strewn around during the violent years.”

About 150,000 people have died in the conflict over several decades and stunted development in the resource-rich region. 

Duterte promised adequate resources, a daunting problem in the past.

The Philippine and Western governments and the guerrillas see an effective Muslim autonomy as an antidote to nearly half a century of secessionist violence, which Daesh could exploit to gain a foothold.

“The dream that we have fought for is now happening and there’s no more reason for us to carry our guns and continue the war,” rebel forces spokesman Von Al-Haq said in an interview ahead of the ceremony.

Several commanders long wanted for deadly attacks were given safety passes to be able to travel to Manila and join the ceremony, including Abdullah Macapaar, who uses the nom de guerre Commander Bravo, Al-Haq said. 

Known for his fiery rhetoric while wearing his camouflage uniform and brandishing his assault rifle and grenades, Macapaar will be one of the 41 regional administrators from the rebel front.

Duterte will pick his representatives to fill the rest of the Bangsamoro Transition Authority, which will also act as a regional Parliament with Murad as the chief minister until regular officials are elected in 2022.

Members of the Moro National Liberation Front, which signed a 1996 autonomy deal that has largely been seen as a failure, will also be given seats in the autonomous government.

Disgruntled fighters of the Moro National Liberation Front broke off and formed new armed groups, including the notorious Abu Sayyaf, which turned to terrorism and banditry after losing its commanders early in battle. 

The Abu Sayyaf has been blacklisted by the US as a terrorist organization and has been suspected of staging a suspected Jan. 27 suicide bombing that killed 23 mostly churchgoers in a Roman Catholic cathedral on southern Jolo island.

“We have already seen the pitfalls,” Al-Haq said, acknowledging that the violence would not stop overnight because of the presence of the Abu Sayyaf and other armed groups, some linked to Daesh. 

“It’s a very difficult and challenging process.”