Author: Diane Taylor
The Home Office is so concerned about the health of a man who faces removal from the UK this Monday that four medics will accompany him on the flight in case he has a stroke.
Sangarapillai Balachandran, 60, a Sri Lankan Tamil with Australian citizenship, is due to be flown to Australia with his wife and three children. He has had three increasingly serious strokes over six years. He says that all three occurred during periods of stress in his dealings with the Home Office over his family’s immigration case.
Balachandran, who fears he could die on the flight, takes medication for high blood pressure. When his blood pressure was taken a few days ago to assess his fitness to fly it was 160 over 105 – normal blood pressure range from 120/80 to 140/90. A neurologist who treated Balachandran after his third stroke said it was likely to have been caused by “a combination of hypertension and ethnic factors”.
The family has twice agreed to return to Australia in the last year but both times were removed from the flights because Balachandran was deemed unfit to fly. The most recent was in February, when he was taken off the plane because he became unwell and after the family told the flight crew about the three strokes. He was taken to hospital and treated overnight to lower his blood pressure.
It is understood that the Home Office insists he is fit to fly on this occasion after an independent medical assessment. But the family say the Home Office has informed them that four medics will accompany him on Monday’s flight because of his health problems. Long flights can heighten the risk of strokes, especially for people who have high blood pressure. The family are hoping they will be granted a last reprieve so they can remain in the UK.
Balachandran’s son, Pranavan, 23, said: “Monday is just falling off a cliff for all of us.”
The charity Medical Justice, which works to protect the health of immigration detainees, said it encountered up to three cases a month of the Home Office proceeding to remove people deemed medically unfit to fly.
Balachandran is a highly specialised engineer with expertise in water purification systems. He was headhunted by a British company in 2007 to come and work for it because there was a shortage of civil engineers with his particular skills at the time. His family had moved from Sri Lanka to Australia a decade before as part of a migrant recruitment programme and all had been granted citizenship there.
His family no longer has permission to work since his work visa expired and the Home Office refused them indefinite leave to remain.
Balachandran’s oldest daughter, Karthika, 30, has learning disabilities and is a voluntary administrator at St George’s hospital, where she has worked for the past seven years.
His youngest daughter, Sinthuja, 28, gained a first in economics at Queen Mary University and passed the civil service fast-stream exams. She was accepted for a job in the civil service dependent on resolving her immigration status. A letter seen by the Guardian from the government economics service said the government was struggling to recruit enough economists and that she was “recognised as having valuable technical skills as an economist and in wider analysis”.
She said: “I have had to try extra hard to reach the same level as other people because I’m partially deaf but I was determined no to let that hold me back. Now all that is going to waste. The Home Office is just a government department. I thought the government is supposed to be for the people.