Matthieu Jacquet, 28, was unemployed and looking for work in eastern Africa's Malawi back in April. However, after falling violently ill, he was diagnosed with malaria and fell into a coma.
Needing urgent medical treatment and with his insurance having run out, his family was told that a medically supervised flight back to Paris would cost €250,000.
They eventually opted for the cheaper option of a flight to the French island of Réunion in the Indian ocean, which still cost €87,000.
The man's sister, Magali, told The Local that without signing an acknowledgement of the debt, the plane would not have taken off.
“He didn't have a choice to be repatriated, he was dying,” she said.
The trainee pastry chef recovered after spending nine days in a coma and a “three-week blackout”, only to be faced by the colossal bill which has to be paid by September 15th.
And his family is outraged.
“I'm not disappointed with the government – I am sickened,” Matthieu's sister said.
She added that while her brother was between jobs, he was not notified that he would not be insured by his new employers.
She also added that he wasn't taking malaria medication at the time, as he had already suffered from the illness the previous year and was deemed to have been cured.
Now, with the family unable to repay the debt, Magali has taken charge of launching an online petition in an effort to get the government to cancel the debt. It has garnered over 5,000 signatures since it was created on Tuesday.
The family has also asked the public to make donations in an effort to help chip away at the invoice. So far, around €4,000 has been raised.
On top of this, Magali is spearheading a Facebook group in order to raise awareness, where over 1,000 people have followed to share their support.
“Another absurdity from this crap government, it disgusts me,” one follower wrote.
The cover picture shows a black background with the words “Je Suis Matthieu”, a reference to the “Je Suis Charlie” slogan that gained worldwide recognition after the January terror attacks at the Charlie Hebdo newspaper in Paris.
(Malawi in south-eastern Africa. Photo: GoogleMaps)
But not everyone is supportive of the cause. One Facebook user, Mark Hornblower, wrote on the group's wall:
“What a stupid idea to go to work as a chef in Malawi (…) It's lucky that he is repatriated now, safe and sound, but you can't ask taxpayers to pay for his bullshit.”
Some officials have also taken sides, some quick to note that while insurance may not be mandatory, it is recommended.
“The French mistakenly think the state will take care of everything if any problems arise,” Charlotte Hemery, communications manager at the Union for French Nationals Abroad (UFE), told Le Figaro newspaper.
“It's up to the traveller to take out insurance to help out with incidents like this.”