The UK man and his wife have been supported by north London Labour MP Tulip Siddiq and shadow home secretary Diane Abbot. The couple have been together for over fourteen years and survived the visa regimes between Thailand and the United Kingdom by travelling intermittently between both jurisdictions. It is understood that because of tightening regulations in both countries, thousands of UK men and Thai women are caught in the same legal limbo. The couple’s plight became complicated in 2018 when Mark Leonardi had a severe epileptic fit which left him hospitalised. He is also suffering from end-stage kidney disease.

The deportation of a Thai woman from the UK was aborted on Tuesday just 2 hours before she was due to be flown back to Thailand after her British husband lodged a judicial review application at the Courts of Justice in London. The UK man’s Thai wife was detained suddenly weeks prior, on July 16th when she went to an immigration office in London to routinely report her status. Her severely ill husband at home was left devastated by the loss of his wife, carer and best friend.

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Mark Leonardi at home at his home in Swiss Cottage London (inset top) awaiting the return of his beloved Thai wife Ngam Ngon (main photo with her husband) who was detained by UK immigration officers on Tuesday, July 16th while she made a routine report to an immigration office in London. The husband and wife have lived together for over 14 years and been married for four. They had lived in limbo travelling from the UK to Thailand and vice versa for many years until last year when Mark’s illness became more acute while Ngan Ngom was in Britain on a 6-month tourist visa. He suffered an epileptic fit which left him hospitalised. The couple, at that point, decided to apply for a spousal visa which was rejected by the Home Office who found that Mark Leonardi’s situation was not ‘exceptional’ and suggested that if his wife returned to Thailand he could avail of local authority help and support. The UK man’s pitiful plight is being fully supported by Labour MP Tulip Siddiq (inset lower right) and shadow home secretary Diane Abbot. The deportation halted yesterday hours before the plane was to take off for Thailand with his wife aboard after Mr Leonardo sought a High Court judicial review at the Courts of Justice in London (inset lower left). His wife was already at the airport when told she was being returned to Yarl’s Wood.

Yesterday afternoon at Heathrow Airport in the UK, the deportation of a Thai woman, the wife of a UK man, was aborted just hours before the former Khon Kaen resident was due to be deported back to Thailand. The reason was that her husband, 62-year-old Mark Leonardi, had through his lawyers filed a motion for a High Court review of the action at the Courts of Justice in London.

Thai woman caring for her chronically ill UK husband arrested at immigration during routine visit

The Thai woman, 52-year-old Ngam Ngon Leonardi, in the UK caring for her chronically sick husband, was detained on Tuesday 16th of July last by UK immigration authorities as she made a monthly visit to her local immigration office to report her status. The shocked Thai wife initially thought it was some sort of practical joke when she was told that she was being detained or arrested without any notice during a routine interview.

Taken to a detention centre in Bedfordshire

She was taken at that point, leaving her husband alone at home without a carer, to Yarl’s Wood in Bedfordshire, the large and secure detention centre for immigrants who have been found to be on the wrong side of UK Home Office regulations.

UK man devastated as heard Thai wife was taken away

 Her husband was devastated by the turn of events. Speaking to a local newspaper in London yesterday, the Camden NewJournal, he said this: ‘It was just on the spot. She thought they were joking. She had done nothing wrong. It’s devastating really. I thought if I have another fit, there’s no one to look after me.’ 

‘Oh my God, it was a shock’

Later, the UK man expressed again the shock he felt over two weeks ago when he found out that his loving wife, his carer and friend had been separated from him while complying with immigration reporting requirements: ‘When I heard she had been detained I was devastated. Oh my god, it was a shock. She was going to report with the Home Office and they just detained her and locked her up. She’s not a runaway risk.’

Former milkman is suffering from end-stage kidney disease and epilepsy. He needs care

The 62-year-old man, a former milkman, is suffering from end-stage kidney disease and epilepsy. He was diagnosed with the kidney condition on Christmas Day in 2003. Mr Leonardi received a kidney transplant but the new kidney failed leaving him in constant need of dialysis. 

End-stage kidney disease is often caused by other factors such as diabetes but it can just be a hereditary matter also. The UK man’s epilepsy complicates matters as he is liable to have severe seizures and could die if one occurs while he is not attended to.

Loving relationship and continuous journey between UK man and his Thai wife since they meet at a clothes shop in Khon Kaen 14 years ago

Mr Leonardi has been in a loving relationship with his Thai wife since meeting her at a clothes shop in Khon Kaen City in the Isan region of northeast Thailand in 2005, fourteen years ago. The couple married in Bangkok four years ago in 2015. They have since travelled continuously between Thailand and the north of London during their relationship and this was the case up until the end of last year. Ms Ngam Ngon was granted a six-month tourist visa to stay in the UK and the coupled arrived in London in May 2018 for another stay in Britain.

Flying between the UK and Thailand until the British man suffered a severe epileptic seizure last year

However, on the last trip, Mr Leonardi experienced a severe epileptic seizure which left him hospitalised. It was this medical event that convinced the UK man that he needed to stay in his home country and seek a spousal visa for his Thai wife. There are thousands of couples like Mr Leonardo and his wife trapped in legal limbo attempting to keep within the law as many cannot fully fulfil the legal conditions to live with each other in either Thailand or the United Kingdom because of increasingly stringent requirements in both jurisdictions.

Spousal visa application cost £1,000 and was rejected

The couple applied for the spousal visa at a cost £1,000 at the end of last year before the tourist visa of Mr Leornardi’s Thai wife expired. They were subsequently devastated to learn earlier this year that the application had been rejected.

Home Office – ‘circumstances not exceptional’

The Home Office found that Mr Leonardi’s circumstances were not exceptional and seemed to infer that an application should have been made from Thailand. A key issue for many UK men with Thai wives seeking spousal visas has been the need to show sufficient income to maintain their spousal partners in Britain.

UK government in 2010 began the tightening of immigration rules for UK Thai relationships

This burdensome requirement was introduced by the incoming  UK government of David Cameron in 2010 and the Home Office has interpreted it in the most stringent and demanding way possible leaving many self-employed people or those relying on independent incomes in a heartbreaking situation. Many UK men who find love in Thailand and marry Thai women, come from this socio-economic pool of people. Former prime minister Teresa May, in her time at the Home Office, was the driver of this pitiless regime that has been especially harsh on UK men with Thai wives. 

Challenging situation for UK men with Thai wives

Since then, this requirement and a toughening of regulations coupled with rigorous and inflexible enforcement of provisions have created a very challenging situation for many UK Thai couples. Many UK men have expressed what they see as prejudice from the Home Office especially against Thai women since the spousal partners are normally UK men who do not come from minority groups. 

North London Labour MP Tulip Siddiq fully supportive of the now separated couple  

There has been strong support for the plight of Mr Leonardi notably from his local MP, Tulip Siddiq, who is the member of parliament for Hampstead and Kilburn and a long-serving Muslim Labor politician. Ms Siddiq expressed her ‘delight’ on Tuesday at the sudden halt to Ms Leonardi’s deportation just two hours before her flight back to Thailand was due to take off.

 ‘We will not rest until she is guaranteed to stay in the UK and back at home with her husband’

The Labour MP has vowed to pursue the matter further on her constituent’s behalf: ‘We will not rest until she is guaranteed to stay in the UK and back at home with her husband,’ she told the UK’s Independent newspaper after the news emerged. She lambasted the UK Home Office and immigration services for their approach to the matter: ‘To separate a couple of 15 years has been cruel enough, but to separate a wife who cares for her seriously ill husband is beyond the pale. It is yet another case that illustrates the cruelty at the heart of the UK’s immigration regime.’

Diane Abbot castigates UK Home Office on the treatment of the Thai woman and her husband

The London MP was joined by the Labour Party’s shadow home secretary who also gave her support for the couple. She described the policies being pursued by current UK authorities as ‘inhumane’ and expressed the view that at some point, the government will face the consequences when people realise what is happening in the United Kingdom in their name. 

Immigrant Welfare group officer says UK man’s case is ‘exceptional’ and calls for Thai wife to be returned

Mary Atkinson is a campaign officer with the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants which promotes a ‘families together’ campaign. She questioned how the UK Home Office could not see the plight of a severely ill man suffering from end-stage renal failure and severe epilepsy is not an ‘exceptional circumstance’ by observing that she thought most people would agree that it was. She said this: ‘When Mr and Ms Leonardi married, they vowed to support each other in good times and bad, in sickness and in health. The Home Office must stop standing in their way and immediately release Ms Leonardi, letting her return home to support her husband in his time of greatest need.’

Rejection of spousal visa even though ‘genuine and subsisting’ was accepted by officials

The UK’s Home Office when rejecting the application accepted that the couple had a ‘genuine and subsisting’ relationship. However, it pointed out that treatment for Mr Leonardi’s medical condition existed in Thailand. Government officials also pointed out that Mr Leonardi has the option of remaining in Britain while his Thai wife, Ngam Ngon, returned to Thailand in order to submit a further application from outside the jurisdiction. The Home Office also suggested that Mr Leonardi could avail of local authority supports to assist with his care needs due to his medical condition.

Mark Leonardi on Tuesday: ‘My wife was looking after me. She is also my best friend.’

This led the UK man to initiate a petition and refer to his political representatives and immigrant activists to highlight the case. He has consistently explained that he cannot live without his wife in his current state. ‘I’ve got no one else. I need someone to look after me. I get epilepsy at night, if I’m by myself and get a seizure, it will kill me. I’ve been okay so far, but I’m really scared. I feel lost,’ he says. Mr Leonardi has an 87-year old mother but she is not in a fit state to care for her son. ‘My wife was looking after me. She is also my best friend.’

Long, expensive legal road ahead

It is understood that following standard procedure at the immigration service, it is probable that Ms Ngam Ngom Leonardi, Mark’s loving wife from Thailand, will be released from the detention centre at Yarl’s Wood pending the High Court hearing of the matter. This could take up to one year to come on for a full hearing. It is also likely to be a very expensive and mentally taxing process for a 62-year-old, critically ill man.

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