A 16-year-old girl with autism who has been living in Australia for eight years could be deported within weeks because she failed immigration medical assessments and the Assistant Immigration Minister has refused to intervene.
Blacktown schoolgirl Sumaya Bhuiyan has autism spectrum disorder. Her family’s application for permanent residency was rejected in 2013 after immigration health checks found Sumaya had a “moderate developmental delay” that would result in significant cost to Australian taxpayers, her mother Nasrin Haque said.
Last month, Dr Haque was told that Assistant Immigration Minister Alex Hawke had decided it was “not in the public interest” to intervene, and that Sumaya must leave the country.
Dr Haque, a GP working in two medical practices in western Sydney, has until Friday, February 24, to book flights.
Dr Nasrin Haque, left, with her daughter Sumaya. Photo: Supplied
“I still cannot believe how this could be happening. I cry every time I think she has to leave,” Dr Haque said.
“My children have been doing well in school, they have a lot of friends. I’m working in two practices, I have a lot of patients … I have been doing everything I can, hoping to have a good result.”
Dr Haque and her son Sakir, 14, have the option of remaining in Australia on temporary visas or leaving with Sumaya for Hungary, where the family are citizens and where her husband, also a doctor, still lives. The family are originally from Bangladesh.
Neither Dr Haque nor her children speak Hungarian. Moving to Hungary would mean significant disruption to the children’s education and, for Dr Haque, giving up work – hard-won after years studying English and completing the requirements to have her medical qualifications recognised in Australia.
It would also mean leaving their extended family, who are all Australian citizens – Dr Haque’s mother and father, who currently live with them, and her sister, her brother and their children.
It’s an impossible decision, Dr Haque said. “I cannot imagine how I will live without my daughter … I don’t actually know what I will do.”
President of the NSW branch of the Australian Medical Association Brad Frankum said the Minister’s decision was “disgraceful”.
“It would take someone of immense callousness to split a family because one of the children is on the autism spectrum,” Professor Frankum said.
“This family’s human rights are being violated … The fact that an Australian resident of eight years, whose parents and siblings live here, can be faced with deportation due to illness is reprehensible.”
Autism is a developmental disorder that affects about one in 100 children.
Under section 351 of the Migration Act 1958, the Assistant Minister has the power to overturn immigration decisions if he or she thinks it is in the public interest to do so. More than 32,000 people have signed the family’s online petition appealing for ministerial intervention.
However, a spokesman for the Department of Immigration and Border Protection said “the Minister cannot be compelled to exercise his powers and he is not required to explain his decisions on any case.”
“What is or is not in the public interest is entirely a matter for the Minister considering each case on its own merits,” the spokesman told Fairfax Media.
“The Assistant Minister only intervenes in a relatively small number of cases which present unique and exceptional circumstances.”
Professor Frankum said Dr Haque’s ability to stay in Australia and continue caring for her community was “of immense public interest”.
“She’s been doing a very valuable job for the community. If she leaves, the public will be worse off for it.”
Autism Awareness Australia chief executive Nicole Rogerson said the decision to deport Sumaya was “incredibly offensive” to Australians with disabilities and their families.
“It sends a terrible message about what disability means in this country … The parents have done nothing but contribute to our country, yet apparently the scourge of this disability, this disabled child, is so bad we have to deport the entire family,” she said.
“I ask Alex Hawke, if he’s got small children of his own, what particular message is he trying to teach them about how we treat difference and disability in this country?
“It’s appalling and it’s heartless.”