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'Better to get the death sentence': Pakistani family faces deportation over disability

Source: Supplied

Faisal Altaf and his family is facing an uncertain future after being told by the government that keeping their children here will “likely result in a significant cost to the Australian community”.

After spending eight years in Australia, Faisal Altaf, and his family have integrated fully into life in Melbourne.

Faisal works as a mechanic, his wife volunteers at a local community centre and two of his three children attend a special school.

Fourteen-year-old Maaz and 16-year-old Saim suffer from a rare condition known as Methylmalonic acidaemia - a metabolic disorder in which the body is unable to process certain proteins and fats.

However, after assessing the family’s application for permanent residency Faisal told SBS Urdu they were told by the Department of Home Affairs that their two sons “do not meet the health requirement” set out in Australian migration law.  It was estimated that the “potential cost to the Australian community” would be $7.3 million if the children were allowed to remain in Australia.

If Saim and Maaz’s applications for permanent residence are rejected, under the Australian migration law the whole family would then have to leave the country.

Faisal, who originally came to Australia as an international student, fears for his sons' treatment and safety if they are not allowed to remain in Australia.

“It’s better to get the death sentence than deport us," he told SBS Urdu.

"There is no treatment for my [my] kids in Pakistan. They would be bullied because of their disability and I fear for their security.” 

Pakistani kids might be deported suffering from rare disease
Saim & Maaz with their mother and sibling.

Medical treatment in Pakistan

Limited treatment is available in Pakistan for patients with metabolic disorders. However, only one facility - the  Agha Khan Hospital in Karachi - offers ongoing treatment.

“Centres in collaboration with Agha Khan University have opened up in major cities around the country which help with diagnosing patients suffering from metabolic disorders,” Dr Idrees Shani, a specialist in internal medicine from Faisalabad, told SBS Urdu.

“For the ongoing treatment of metabolic disorders patients will have to relocate to Karachi as none of the facilities is equipped for ongoing treatment,” he added.

For Faisal, originally from Rawalpindi in the country's north, relocating his family to the port city of Karachi in southern Pakistan in order for his sons to get the ongoing treatment they need would be difficult.

"My whole family is in Punjab. Moving to Karachi would be like relocating once again. I would have to get a house and find a job straight away. Whereas living in Rawalpindi I have extended family there. They can help me out with my family, house, job etc," he said.

Pakistani kids might be deported suffering from rare disease
Faisal & Nadia with their youngest child.

Life in Australia

The family has a strong presence in Melbourne's local community. Faisal founded a community group and now more than 20 people meet twice a week to play badminton.

Both sons also play cricket with a local club.

“Life in Australia has been great. We love it here. Over here I can earn enough and take care of my family,” he said.

His wife, Nadia, says she wanted to assimilate into society when she arrived in 2015 and therefore decided to volunteer at the local food bank twice a month.

“I wanted to have a social life and this was my way of giving back to the community,” she said.

Pakistani kids might be deported suffering from rare disease
Saim & Maaz with father, mother and youngest sibling.

A significant cost to the Australian community

The Public Interest Criterion (PIC) 4007 (1) (c) (ii) (a) of the Migration Regulations 1994 states if the applicant “results in a significant cost to the Australian community in the areas of health care and community services;”

This specific health criterion is under which both Saim and Maaz’s application was assessed and deemed as “not meeting the health requirement.”

Faisal Altaf said he was unaware of the specific disability before moving to Australia, and his children were only successfully diagnosed after coming to Australia.

He says he's glad they are finally getting treatment and emphasized that since moving to Australia not once have they required a carer for their kids.

“For the last four years we have been taking care of the kids without any additional cost or help from the government,” he said. 

“I believe that the Altaf family will continue [their] positive contribution to our society if granted permanent residency,” - Peter Khalil MP

“My kids visit three doctors twice a year for their regular check-ups which cost about $64 per visit. Medicare currently pays for it but I am more than happy to fork out for this cost myself,” he added.

Community Support

Meredith Lawerence manager at Fawkner Community House said: “Since the arrival of the family the children have developed confidence and self-esteem which has been reinforced by the strong family network their parents have built through their community involvement.”

In a letter of support, MP Peter Khalil, member for Wills said, “I believe that the Altaf family will continue [their] positive contribution to our society if granted permanent residency.”

Janet Rice, Greens Senator for Victoria said that “Mr Faisal Altaf and Mrs Nadia Faisal contribute a significant amount of time and effort to their local community in Fawkner,”

Government response to the assessment process

A spokesperson from the Department of Home Affairs said the “health requirement is not condition-specific and the assessment is undertaken individually for each applicant based on their condition and level of severity.”

The spokesperson also stated that the department does not comment on specific cases and advised that further information can be found on the department’s website.

On the note of why the children were allowed entry in the first place the spokesperson responded by saying that for some visas “primary criteria for the grant of the visa requires that all members of a family unit satisfy certain requirements.”

“If one of the members of a family unit does not satisfy these requirements, then the primary applicant will not meet the criteria for the grant of the visa.” the spokesperson further added.

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