A family facing removal from the UK say they have been “treated like criminals” by the Home Office and fear for their father’s health on a long-haul flight.
Sangarapillai Balachandran, 60, who is an Australian citizen, expects to be flown to Australia with his wife, son and two daughters on Monday.
The engineer, who came to work for a company in the UK in 2007, has had three strokes in the last six years.
His family says the Home Office is sending four medics on the flight to monitor him due to concerns about his health. The Home Office would not confirm the figure.
In February, Balachandran and his family were taken off a flight before it took off due to him being unwell.
His son Pranavan, 23, told the Press Association: “We were ready to leave. It was voluntary departure then too. The Home Office said that it was just us returning and that it wouldn’t be a big deal.
“But they asked us to come to Lunar House in Croydon, and we did. Basically, we were expecting just a formal check and then to be taken to the plane.
“But it was more like a criminal kind of process where they took all of our stuff, they put us in rooms, they questioned us, they checked what was on our person, counted how much money we had.
“And as you can imagine that wasn’t very comfortable or very nice to be treated like criminals.
“We were basically told where to sit, told what to do, and there was nothing else we could do.
“And then we were loaded up in a van, almost like a police van, and then escorted to the airport.
“We had immigration officials in front of us and behind us taking us to the airport, as if we’d done something.”
Pranavan said his father found the process hard, adding: “Once he got on the plane, we noticed that he wasn’t responding to us like he normally would.
“Started sweating and we started to see the same symptoms that we saw before when he had his previous strokes, so we asked the airline attendant what we should do, and they came down and they asked him some questions, and then they told all of us to get off the flight.”
Pranavan said once officials heard his father may have to go to the hospital they took the family to a taxi rank at the airport and “disappeared”.
The aborted flight in February was the second time in three months that the family had agreed to go back to Australia. In December 2017, the family did not make it as far as the airport after noticing their father’s symptoms.
The family, whose case was highlighted by The Guardian on Saturday, have been holed up in a hotel near Heathrow Airport since September 28, awaiting the flight.
“Right now we’ve come to the end of the line. If something happens on the flight and he needs to get off, we go homeless again.
“If we get on this flight, and say he does have a stroke, it’s a 27-hour flight, they just can’t get medical attention to him.
“And it’s not like, say a broken leg, which can be fixed. A stroke, you need medical attention in a hospital.
“That’s why I don’t understand why the Home Office is sending four medics. I don’t even know what one can do, let alone four.”
The family have asked for voluntary detention, in the belief that their father would receive medical attention if they were in that scenario.
The Home Office said the family have “exhausted their leave to remain status in the UK and have agreed to return to Australia voluntarily”.
It said Balachandran has received an independent medical assessment and has been deemed fit to fly.
A spokeswoman for charity Medical Justice said: “Medical Justice is concerned about the number of times the Home Office have attempted to remove seriously ill immigration detainees from the UK who our volunteer doctors have assessed as being unfit to fly.
“As well as endangering the health of the detainee, in some cases this also puts at risk the safety of the airline crew and passengers on the flight.
“This cavalier approach to medical fitness to fly demonstrates the Home Office’s disregard for the health and welfare of the people it deals with.
“Most months we assist detainees who have been given ‘removal directions’ and our volunteer doctors have raised concerns about their fitness to fly.”
Pranavan, his mother Shanthy, 53, sister Karthika, 30, and sister Sinthuja, 28, are all Australian citizens like their father.
They came to join their father in Bristol in 2008, and more recently the family lived in Kingston upon Thames.