‘Cruel and inhumane’: Home Office threatens woman in coma with forcible deportation

May Bulman

The Home Office has been accused of being “cruel and insensitive” after a woman was threatened with deportation despite being in a coma in hospital.

Bhavani Espathi, 31, who was in a vegetative state for a week and a half after undergoing a major operation, received a letter stating that her application for leave to remain had been refused and that she was liable to be forcibly removed.

The Indian national’s fiance, Martin Mangler, 33, appealed against the decision while she was still unconscious, providing medical letters from her doctors stating that her life would be at risk if she were to travel.

But the Home Office said that while the medical treatment she was receiving was “unlikely” to be available to the same standard in India, this did not entitle her to remain in the UK – and that she could receive “palliative care” in her home country if the appropriate treatment wasn’t available there.

Lawyers and politicians said the case demonstrated how UK immigration rules were permitting the government to “send people to their death abroad” as part of the hostile environment.

Ms Espathi was in a coma for a week and a half, during which the Home Office ordered her to leave the country

It marks the latest in a string of cases in which Home Office decisions to refuse immigration applications have been met with outrage from campaigners.

Ms Espathi, who came to the UK on a study visa in 2010 and proceeded to work in the arts industry before she fell ill with Crohn’s disease, said she would be “risking her life” if she had to leave the country.

The 31-year-old, who has set up a campaign to support immigrants and those with chronic illnesses, said: “I thought there was no way they could dispute my application. I wasn’t expecting them to say that ‘Even if the drugs aren’t available then you could receive palliative care’.

“I’m trying to be rational. I don’t think they would put me on a plane if they actually saw me. I have tubes all over me. But then I also read stories about them coming to get people with no time to get legal representation.”

The east London resident had initially been living in Britain on student and work visas, but when she fell ill she reapplied under human rights medical grounds. Her application was refused in September 2018 while she was unconscious in hospital, and her appeal was refused two months later.

The Indian national had to be admitted to hospital again last month due to complications with her bowel. She currently relies on a drip and has to have a bag attached to her stomach, and is waiting to undergo further surgery in the summer.

It comes after a Pakistani father was denied treatment under UK immigration rules. Nasar Ullah Khanwas, 38, was told he could not have a transplant because he had overstayed his visa.

In a separate case, an American woman with two disabled British children was threatened with removal last month, meaning they would have been taken into care. The decision was later quashed by the High Court.

The Home Office refusal letter to Ms Espathi’s appeal, issued on 3 December, stated: “Whereas it is accepted that the health care systems in the UK and in India are unlikely to be equivalent, this does not entitle you to remain here ... Should it be the case that your illness deteriorates or you are unable to access treatment, you have not shown a lack of palliative care or family support available in India.”

It also claimed there were “no insurmountable obstacles” to her continuing relationship with German national Mr Mangler, who is settled in the UK, overseas, despite the couple stating in their application that his job as a volcanologist “depended on him staying in the UK”.

Ms Espathi with her fiance, Mr Mangler, after she came out of her coma following her operation in September

A Home Office spokesman said: “In March 2019, the Home Office was made aware of fresh evidence in this case and this is currently being reviewed.”

A letter from a number of surgeons at St Mark’s Hospital, where Ms Espathi was operated on, states that her ”surgical and medical management is highly complex” and that it is “of vital importance” that her care continued to be coordinated and performed there.

“This also means that, both now and after her surgery in 2019, Bhavani will not be able to travel due to her ongoing need for specialist care in our hospital as her recovery after her next operation is likely to be protracted and complex,” it adds.

Describing her current physical condition, Ms Espathi said: “I’m in a pretty vulnerable state right now with somewhat of an open stomach.

“I would do anything to just be able to have a conversation with the Home Office, because when you’re just exchanging letters they say things that are completely untrue and you have no way to refute that or to have a dialogue about it.

“All of this is making my condition worse. You’re meant to avoid stress, but I can’t help my body’s reaction to certain things. I’m currently in hospital and haven’t been able to put on weight – stress is a big part of it.

“It would be a risk to my life if I had to leave. I won’t have any of the drugs that literally allow me to move. I don’t think it’s too much to ask to not want to die.”

Diane Abbott, Labour’s shadow home secretary, said such cases revealed the “cruel and insensitive” treatment by the Home Office under the Conservative government.

“Unless the government end the hostile environment policies, we will continue to see unnecessary distress inflicted on vulnerable people,” she added.

Chai Patel, legal director at the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI), said the Home Office’s decision to issue Ms Espathi a removal order when she was in a coma was ”inhumane and cruel”, but “not surprising from a department where officials are trained in how to reject human rights claims, and incentivised to issue removal orders”.

He added: “This decision should be immediately reviewed and Ms Espathi should be allowed to stay in the country which has become her home, where she can get the medical care she desperately needs.

“Most people want our country to treat all those who call it home with compassion and respect, but at the moment the law allows the Home Office to send people to their death abroad. This law must change.”