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Sri Lankan girl, Eliza Foneska, refused visa because she has Down syndrome Empty Sri Lankan girl, Eliza Foneska, refused visa because she has Down syndrome

Mon Mar 23, 2015 4:53 pm
Sri Lankan girl, Eliza Foneska, refused visa because she has Down syndrome, says family
By the National Reporting Team's Caitlyn Gribbin

A Sri Lankan family who want to work in a Christian crisis centre in remote Australia say their daughter was refused a temporary visa because she has Down syndrome.

The Immigration Department issued a temporary work visa to eight-year-old Eliza Fonseka's parents, but not to the child, because she was considered to be a "significant cost to the Australian community in the areas of health care".

Eliza's father Angelo Fonseka said his daughter was in good health and not on medication, and the family had Australian private health insurance to cover any medical costs.

"We have given in writing that we will take responsibility for Eliza, she doesn't need any support from the government," Mr Fonseka said.

"In Sri Lanka we are not relying on any government benefits. As parents we are supplying everything. If we migrated to Australia we will do the same thing."

The family plans to move to Shark Bay, 800 kilometres north of Perth, to work at a Christian crisis centre that provides food, accommodation and support to people in need.

"We want to help them. My wife is a worship leader, she wants to be [on] the worship team in Shark Bay some day," Mr Fonseka said.

In a statement, the Department of Immigration said it could not discuss the specific details of the case, but said the visa assessment process was extensive.

"If an applicant has a significant medical condition, their medical reports are referred to a Medical Officer of the Commonwealth (MOC)," the statement said.

"A MOC is required by law to take into account the health care costs and community services likely to be required by a person with a condition of the same level and severity as the applicant.

"A person with a medical condition may fail to meet the health requirement if a MOC assesses their condition as likely to result in significant health care and community service costs to the Australian community or prejudice the access of Australians to such services during their stay in Australia."

The Immigration Department said health waiver provisions exist for certain subclasses of visas and the family could consider investigating that option.

The West Australian Premier Colin Barnett responded to the Fonseka's plea.

He wrote to them and said he had personally contacted Immigration Minister Peter Dutton and hoped they would be "successful in obtaining a favourable outcome".

'This is so hurtful, it is a harsh decision'

Mr Fonseka said the Immigration Department's decision to refuse his daughter's application was upsetting.

"I would say as parents this is so hurtful, it's a harsh decision," he said.
Pastor Tim Hargreaves from the Shark Bay Crisis Centre Photo: Pastor Tim Hargreaves from the Shark Bay Crisis Centre said he was "appalled" by the decision. (Supplied)

"She's an innocent child, an eight-year-old child and I believe whatever God created, no man has authority to destroy, reject or discriminate.

"She does swimming, dancing, everything and according to psychologist reports and even the doctors, school reports, everything is perfect.

"They have clearly said she doesn't need residential or institutional care. Only thing is we need to guide her and give her the best to improve her skills."

The family's sponsor Pastor Tim Hargreaves runs the Shark Bay Crisis Centre mostly by himself.

Mr Hargreaves, 77, said he badly needed the help of the Fonseka family.

"I'm pretty fit and able ... but it's hard yakka and I need a younger couple to give me a hand," Mr Hargreaves said.

"I'm appalled. It's heartless and I'm ashamed for my own Australian Government to be a party and identify with such a decision."

The Fonseka family are appealing the Immigration Department's decision to refuse Eliza's visa application.

Down Syndrome Australia says decision is 'terribly disheartening'

Down Syndrome Australia said the decision to deny a visa for Eliza was "terribly disheartening".

The organisation's chairman Angus Graham said the decision highlighted a "discrepancy between the Disability Discrimination Act and the Migration Act".

"We don't discriminate in this country on all sorts of issues, yet we're being absolutely discriminatory by refusing a visa to a child on the basis that they have Down syndrome," Mr Graham said.

"I think for anybody, particularly the Down syndrome community, this reinforces the low expectation environment that people with Down syndrome are less considered than other, more able-bodied people."

Mr Graham said the situation has upset the Down syndrome community.

"It's terribly disheartening to see a legitimate visa application denied," he said.

"Two parents can come in but they've been told to leave your child out because she has Down syndrome."

Mr Graham said Down Syndrome Australia would support the Fonseka family in their appeal against the decision.
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