BY JAMES TWOMEY
A woman who was threatened with deportation while she was in a coma has been granted a 12- month visa after a petition gained more than 170,000 signatures.
Bhavani Esapathi, 31, from Lewisham, was in a coma in September 2018 after stomach surgery and received a letter from the Home Office that said her medical visa had been denied as she could receive an acceptable level of palliative care in her homeland, India.
The letter from the Home Office stated: “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.
“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.”
But she has now been given a stay of execution after her fiancee, Dr Martin Mangler, 33, had set up a petition to persuade the Home Office to grant her a visa which received more than 150,000 signatures in one week.
The Home Office has granted Bhavani a 12-month visa but she and Martin say it is not all good news and they will fight for a longer stay.
Bhavani has Crohn’s disease and had been seriously ill before being taken to hospital in September 2018 for the surgery where she was induced into a coma.
Bhavani – who has lived and worked in the UK for nine years, creating art to help people with invisible and autoimmune diseases – says she was “devastated” by the letter she received while in her coma.
Bhavani said: “This Government has once again revealed its ignorance towards those with medical needs, especially those of us with chronic conditions.
“The letter [granting a 12- month visa] merely glosses over the impending surgical interventions whilst exhibiting pure silence towards a concrete long-term plan – I will die if I am denied access to drugs that help manage my chronic condition and that is exactly what they’re doing.
“In a way nothing has really changed since last year, they told me I’d rather receive palliative care in my ‘home country’ despite my home being in Britain and now they’re saying they’ll let me live another year and then I can go die in my home country, far away from my real home.
“They’ve succeeded in achieving the type of hostile environment that they’ve wanted to because living in fear is to not live at all and that’s what this Tory government wants us to feel like.
“If you can stop someone from living then you’d rather give up instead of stopping to live except in my case giving up means to stop living so it’s not really an option for me.
“Precisely by issuing a visa after two refusals they’ve admitted that their decision process is flawed, you shouldn’t need 170,000 people to convince a government to do its job rightfully.
We need a government that cares for people as human beings and not see us as numbers in a graph.”
The original letter from the Home Office that Bhavani received in her coma also stated that Bhavani’s engagement to fiancee Martin, a German national settled in the UK who works as a volcanologist, was not an additional reason to grant her residency.
Martin said: “It’s pretty obvious that this decision is designed to silence us rather than genuinely providing a real solution to our situation.
“Bhavani will still need critical care in a year’s time, and as a result of the Home Office’s decision we will be forced to fight for her right to live again same time next year.
“The most frustrating aspect of this is that Bhavani has complied with the Home Office at all times in the last 9 years, and she’s been doing everything right by all accounts – and yet here we are, begging the Home Office to let her live.
“We shouldn’t have to do that. In times where doctors are literally fighting for Bhavani’s life, the Home Office apparently has nothing better to do than to try to send her to her certain death.
“It is a shameful testimony to the efficiency of the hostile environment that the only option left for Bhavani to fight the Home Office’s irresponsible decisions is to go public and start a massive petition.
We are lucky to have been able to do that – but not every immigrant can or wants to.”
Bhavani added: “The petition has been amazing, we did not expect to get this many signatures and the support from MPs has been heartwarming, especially from Vicky Foxcroft.
“We’ve spent five digits on the application proceedings and I haven’t been able to work for a very long time so money wise things have been very tight.
Every time we go for a review it costs thousands of pounds and the barristers plus the £500 NHS surcharge as a foreign national even though I’ve paid taxes for years. It’s all adding up so any help we can get means a lot.”
A Home Office spokesman said: “In March 2019, the Home Office was made aware of fresh evidence in this case and it was subsequently reviewed.
“The applicant has been granted leave to remain in the UK for 12 months.”