After eight years in New Zealand, Dinesha Amarasinghe, her husband and her three sons have been told they will be deported back to Sri Lanka because Dinesha has been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.
They've been here eight years. The three boys — aged 8, 10 and 11 — don't speak Sri Lankan. They speak English, and according to one of the school mums, they play a mean game of cricket too. They are Kiwi kids.
The family is hard-working, apparently. They help at school, they volunteer in the Queenstown community and the children are doing very well at school.
But Dinesha's MS diagnosis means they'll be sent back to Sri Lanka. Their visas have been revoked. They'll be sent back to a country the children don't know, and where the medicine Dinesha needs can't be accessed.
Queenstown locals took to the streets yesterday. Several hundred people marched through the centre saying the family was a valuable part of the community and urged authorities to re-think their stance.
An appeal has been lodged against their deportation, but the family can't work because their visas have been revoked — and the community is asking for the husband, Sam, to be issued a short-term work visa so that he can at least support his family while the appeal is being heard.
Cases like this are difficult. People will argue they set a precedent. But I've always been uncomfortable with opening our borders to people until they get sick. And then we send them packing.
Dinesha developed MS since living in New Zealand. She didn't come here with MS. She's not what you call a medical tourist who came here purely in the hope of seeking treatment on our health system.
The family has been here for eight years and are contributing to our economy — and judging by the hundreds who walked through Queenstown's streets yesterday to show their support, they are a much-loved and valued family in the community.
Keep going, Queenstown. No-one achieved anything by sitting on the fence. Keep showing your compassion. Keep fighting the fight.
It doesn't feel very Kiwi to march this family to the border and send Dinesha, her husband and her three promising young sons on their way, purely because Dinesha has developed MS.
Maybe we should be change the sign at border control. You're welcome, until you get sick. And then we'll send you packing.
Let's see what people power can do in Queenstown. I'm with the locals. The family has been here eight years. I think they should stay.
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