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“I have often thought of ending my life. I have tried everything but nothing is working out,” Sonia Thakur tells SBS Hindi.
Thakur, an Indian national who lives in Melbourne with her husband, Tarun Verma, is battling her visa status as her husband battled severe illness for the past three years.
Mr Verma - Bobby - is severely ill and after attempting to end his own life, was admitted to Mercy Mental Health in Werribee, in October.
After multiple failed attempts to get a visa to stay in Australia, the couple was granted a bridging visa which ends on December 14th 2017.
Ms Thakur has pleaded with the Assistant Minister of Immigration, Alex Hawke, to grant them a visa to stay in Australia as her husband recovers in the hospital with multiple medical conditions.
“My husband needs 24x7 support and care. He is in the hospital,” Sonia tells SBS Hindi. "Doctors have said he is not fit to fly. He might die if he takes a flight."
Sonia and Tarun came to Australia to pursue higher studies in 2008 and 2006 respectively.
Tarun completed his Diploma of Horticulture and Sonia completed Bachelor of Nursing, after which both were granted further visa to work and stay in Australia.
In September 2010, Sonia applied for a Subclass 485 visa (Skilled Graduate Visa) on her own accord but she later found to have failed to satisfy the English language requirement.
They met, fell in love and got married in March 2013 despite opposition from their families in India.
Few months into their marriage in October 2013, Tarun was diagnosed with a medical condition, hepatic cirrhosis, (a chronic degenerative disease in which normal liver cells are damaged and are then replaced by scar tissue).
The condition led to portal hypertension, the enlargement of the spleen (splenomegaly) and a number of other health issues. He was placed under the Western Health gastroenterology team for regular reviews and was put on a waiting list for a liver transplant.
During this time, to extend their stay in Australia, the couple sought advice from an Indian migration agent based in Melbourne (he cannot be named for legal reasons) who advised them that they apply for a Protection visa based on the non-acceptance of their relationship in India.
“He said he had helped many others similarly and it would be easy. With Tarun so unwell, his idea felt like a light at the end of the tunnel. So we went with his suggestion,” Sonia says.
The Protection visa was lodged in March 2014 and was refused in October 2014.
“We were duped by this agent. He guaranteed us visas but it was refused,” Sonia says.
The applicants appealed the decision to the Tribunal (AAT).
On November 8th 2016, the AAT advised the clients that the appointed representative was barred from being registered as a migration agent for a period of 5 years.
In July 2016 Tarun collapsed at home.
“I saw his eyes rolling. I didn’t even have the means to take him to the hospital. I called my neighbours for help,” Sonia says.
Tarun was taken to the Royal Melbourne Hospital (“RMH”) Emergency Department and was treated for a major brain haemorrhage.
Tarun was admitted to the Intensive Care Unit (“ICU”) for about two months for treatment and was treated for life-threatening conditions.
“In September 2016, our Medicare benefits were cancelled. We had no money. We took him home. He needed medicines, he needed physiotherapy. He needed regular check-ups after what he had been through. But we didn’t have money,” Sonia says.
With their immigration case before tribunal, Sonia did not have any working rights in Australia.
With Tarun’s medicare benefits cancelled, there were no means to carry out any medical follow-up until January 2017.
At the medical review in January 2017, it was noted that Tarun’s health had deteriorated.
“There were times when I would go to the nearby shopping centre and beg. All I could buy was bread and we have eaten plain bread to survive,” Sonia says.
Sonia and Tarun’s friends chipped in and paid their rent and utility bills. “We have received lot of help from people and I will be eternally grateful to them,” she says.
AAT rejects their appeal
On 10 May 2017, the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) affirmed the decision of the Delegate in respect of their Protection visa application.
The AAT upheld Immigration department’s decision to refuse their visa but did take a note of Tarun’s severely ill health which may result in death, stemming from his condition, by natural causes, “at least” in part, if he were to return to India with Sonia.
Application for ministerial intervention
In June 2017, another migration lawyer, who offered his services for free this time, lodged a request for Ministerial Intervention on Sonia’s behalf.
On August 30th 2017 the Assistant Minister personally considered the request and decided it would not be in the public interest to intervene.
Tarun attempts to end his life
During this, Tarun’s health significantly deteriorated again.
“I went to hang the laundry outside the house when Tarun tried to end his life inside,” Sonia says.
“Crisis Assessment and Treatment (CAT) team had to be called in and he was taken to Mercy Mental Health in Werribee.”
Sonia says her husband experiences psychotic symptoms and requires ongoing monitoring for worsening symptoms and suicidal ideation.
With their visa expiring soon and Tarun’s worsening medical condition, a new request for Ministerial Intervention was submitted on 1st September 2017. This time, it highlighted Tarun’s condition and the doctor’s advice that he was unfit to travel.
On September 27th 2017, Tarun Verma and his wife, Sonia Thakur received a decision from the Department of Immigration that their request for Ministerial Intervention would not be referred for consideration.
“Tarun has significant medical issues affecting numerous organs including his liver, lungs and brain. He needs 24 hour care,” Sonia says.
The couple had a valid Bridging visa to remain legally in Australia until October 27th however given the state of Mr Tarun’s health, he was remitted back to hospital.
Following this, the Department of Immigration renewed their Bridging visas until December 14th 2017.
On October 26th 2017 a further submission was made to the Assistant Minister for Immigration, Mr Alex Hawke and the case remains with his office.
“The toll that Tarun’s health has had on his and his wife is indescribable, not only having to manage the life threatening illnesses but also their visa status,” Vanessa De Pretis, the couple’s migration consultant told SBS Hindi.
A spokeswoman from the Department of Immigration and Border Protection told SBS Hindi that they have comprehensively assessed the case but it would be inappropriate to confirm further details.
In a written reply, the spokeswoman said, “This case has been comprehensively assessed by the Department and the Assistant Minister.”
“The Assistant Minister only intervenes in a relatively small number of cases which present unique and exceptional circumstances.
“It would be inappropriate to confirm further details, including individual circumstances, relating to this case.”
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