"It's completely inappropriate": Australian Immigration deporting people with disabilities


Last year a Bangladeshi couple, both doctors, had their application for permanent residency denied, after nearly a decade living and working in Melbourne. The reason may surprise you: their son has mild autism.

Advocates say they're seeing nearly a dozen cases a year of disabled people, and sometime their whole families, being denied permanent residency. The government believes their disability will be a burden on the health care system.

Biswajit Banik and Sarmin Sayeed's son Arko was diagnosed with autism as a toddler.

"It wasn't nice when the doctor told you that your son would be different for the rest of his life … he will never be independent," said Sarmin.

The Baniks are both qualified doctors. They moved to Melbourne from Bangladesh in 2007 on an AusAID scholarship.

Nine years later and Sarmin is juggling a PhD in women’s health while working as a General Practitioner in suburban Melbourne.

Her husband Biswajit is a university lecturer at Monash University. Arko is 12 years old.

"Arko has a mild spectrum of autism," Biswajit said. "We cannot change autism but we can minimise its progression"

With the help of special schooling and private tutoring, Arko has made progress. He reads at a year two level and is learning to cook. The Baniks believe he will one day be able to work and live independently.

"It doesn't matter whether he becomes a doctor or an engineer or a chef or a plumber, I don't mind," said Biswajit.

"You work hard, you have your good life, you know end of the day, you know you are a contributing citizen."

Two years ago the Baniks decided to make Australia their home and applied for permanent residency. After a tense eight month wait, their application was rejected  for one reason: Arko.

In their rejection letter it said: “the applicant would be likely to require health care or community services during the period specified above…. provision of these services would be likely to result in a significant cost to the Aus community  in the areas of health care and/or community services.”

A significant cost is defined as over $40,000 in government services throughout Arko’s life.

"For the hypothetical person that is true, but not for Arko," Biswajit said. "We have demonstrated that we never accessed any state disability services, commonwealth disability services.

"Every time we see a specialist, speech therapist, psychologist, we paid from our own pocket."

The Baniks tried to appeal the decision, but in December last year a government tribunal knocked them back.

They then appealed directly to the immigration minister, Peter Dutton, who has now been considering their case for nine months.

"If the honorable minister makes the decision not in our favour then we need to leave this country in 28 days," Biswajit said.

"So, it put us into a lot of uncertainties. We work in a pretty demanding job ... this is actually taking toll on my life, I have, I can't take it anymore."

The practice of deporting disabled people is more common that you would think. President of the National Ethnic Disability Alliance Suresh Rajan says he sees two to three new cases every month.

"We have a person who has a PhD in men's health…. and she's a practicing general practitioner. They are two people who are making a massive contribution to the Australian society.

"What we're looking at there is the commoditisation of a person with disability. We are breaking down a person to a number and that is completely inappropriate."

Under Australian law the migration act is exempt from the disability discrimination act. The immigration department says this policy is not discriminatory towards disabled people as all applicants must cost the taxpayer less than $40,000 in health care.

"We've probably dealt with something in the vicinity of about 18 to 20 cases in the last two years and in not one of those cases has it come under the threshold of $40,000," Suresh said.

The Banik family have found themselves at the centre of a growing movement - with hundreds of people joining protests around Melbourne asking the Immigration Minister to let them stay.

More than 37,000 people signed an online petition to help the family, with Sarmin saying shee "actually didn't believe" that so many would get behind it and support them.

While The Feed was filming with the Banik family, they received some live changing news from their lawyer.

"Minister Peter Dutton actually approved our primary residency, it was too good to be true," Bisjawit said, tearful.

Finally we got this to stay in Australia permanently for my son, you know, this huge struggle we had but at the end, Australia listened to us. That is unbelievable."

For the Baniks this was a good outcome. But Suresh Rajan says many more will never experience this moment.

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