A shopkeeper honoured by the Queen for his vital work delivering essential goods to vulnerable families during the pandemic is facing deportation.
Vimal Pandya, 41, worked 20-hour days serving 55 families from Halai General Stores in Rotherhithe despite being barred from having a job and living in “constant fear” as he fought the Home Office to stay in the country.
He told the Standard: “I was scared like everybody else but I put that aside. I was praying to God that he would take care of me.
“But I felt somebody needed to step up. People were taking advantage of the pandemic charging 1,000 per cent more for toilet paper and hand sanitiser ripping off people. But I didn’t charge a penny extra. They are my family away from home.”
His work was recognised on February 12 this year when he received a letter from Sir Kenneth Olisa, the Queen’s personal representative in Greater London.
The letter read: “It has come to my attention that you are one of those people who have gone above and beyond the call of duty to help others during the Covid-19 pandemic.
“I am therefore writing to personally thank you for all of your efforts and to encourage you to continue making a positive difference to Londoners.”
Mr Pandya said: “I couldn’t dare to dream to be recognised by the Queen. I had to check several times the letter was actually meant for me.
“I cried for hours but couldn’t tell anyone why I was really crying. I was in this situation.
“I was scared every single day that I would be found out. I was living in constant fear that someone would knock on my door and everything would be taken from me.
“When they took me away from my workplace. It’s not nice. Everyone was wondering where I was.
“I didn’t open up or tell anybody because I was embarrassed I was facing this situation.”
He added: “I’m mostly staying indoors now. I’m doing some shifts as a volunteer at the Sue Ryder 2-3 hours just to do something to keep busy
“I don’t dare to dream, I’m a simple person who wants to lead a normal, common life. I’m a people person and I like to be with people.”
Mr Pandya, a stockbroker in India, came to the UK for a “fresh start” after several of his friends committed suicide following the global financial crisis in 2008.
Having arrived in the UK from India in 2011 to study as a banker, Vimal was refused re-entry following a return home in April 2014 to take an ill relative to her parents.
UK Border Force agents informed him the college he was studying at had lost its right to sponsorship, but neither the college nor the Home Office informed Mr Pandya.
Having had both his passport and biometric residence permit retained by agents at London City Airport, Mr Pandya was left unable to secure further sponsorship.
It was only after instructing a solicitor to assist with the case before his visa expired in March 2015 that Mr Pandya also learnt the Home Office had curtailed his initial stay to June 9 2014, a date that had already passed.
“During the 2020 lockdown my young family and I saw more of Vimal than we did of our closest relatives,” said Tom Chivers, a local Southwark resident.
“He was a shining light in the darkness of the pandemic, providing a friendly welcome as well as practical assistance to vulnerable and shielding people in our community. I call on the Home Office to revoke their decision and to allow Vimal to continue serving the people of Rotherhithe — his home for 11 years — as he has done so bravely during the toughest time in our living memory.”
Diane Ferguson added: “I know he [still] regularly checks on at least one local resident. This lady lost her husband during Covid and his help has been invaluable.
“He is much loved and appreciated by everyone in our community and returning him to India when his current situation is not of his making but due to Government administrative errors would be a travesty of justice.”
The Home Office has been approached for comment.