Stranded in Turkey since being barred from boarding a flight to Britain more than two months ago, Siyabonga Twala spent his 34th birthday on Saturday away from his son and family in an unfamiliar city.
Twala holds South African citizenship, has lived in the UK since 2004 and is father to a British son. But on Dec 29, he and his parents, son and two siblings were flying back to Britain after a trip to South Africa when he was stopped from boarding the plane in Istanbul.
"They just pulled me to one side and said we've been informed we can't board you today. That was all they could tell me at that time," he told Reuters in his hotel room in Ankara, where he's been staying since early January.
Twala said he had not seen the deportation order but that it was related to a conviction for posession of cannabis with an intent to supply, for which he served 4-1/2 months in prison in 2018, half of the nine-month sentence he received.
Honor Twala, Siyabonga's brother, said his brother's character was being judged based on one mistake. "It's inhumane to think that just because a person makes one single mistake, then that gives you the rights to overturn their life," he said, speaking from Chester.
The UK Home Office has not responded to a request for comment Reuters made on Saturday.
The British government's immigration policy has come under global scrutiny in recent days after drawing criticism for a new law that would bar the entry of asylum seekers who arrive in the country on small boats across the English Channel. Lawyers and charities said the plans would breach the United Nations convention on refugees.
Twala said his son, Mason, was in shock when he heard that his father could not board the plane. "At that time I just felt as if my whole world had ended. I just felt as if I had just committed another crime," Twala said.
He said his son had still been asking for him. "A lot of times I try and shield him from what's going on. I'm fighting this because I want to be in his life."
Twala, who has a residence permit in the UK, had unsuccessfully appealed a document he was served that said he was liable for deportation, but said he had been told by authorities he would not be deported.
After receiving a family court order for the part-time custody of his son, Twala said he believed he could travel outside the country.
Twala said he is trying to appeal the deportation decision through the Home Office, citing a lack of funds to afford a hotel and personal safety concerns due to the major earthquakes that struck Turkey last month.
He said he tried to go the British Embassy in Ankara but was turned away and that his representative was told by the Home Office that he had left the country voluntarily.
Twala said Chester is his home and all his family are there, adding that he has "nowhere to go" if he's not allowed to return.
"It just feels like I'm in a bad, bad dream," Twala said, adding that he's had "dark" thoughts throughout his time stranded in Turkey. "I'm living a very thin existence right now. I'm just alone."