By Paul Dobbyn
BRISBANE’S Story Bridge was recently lit a brilliant blue in support of an international campaign for the Autism Awareness Month of April.
But Townsville’s Maria Sevilla, mother to an autistic son, has turned a different kind of blue thanks to the Federal Government’s immigration laws.
The Kirwan parishioner and clinical nurse at Townsville Hospital could be deported back to the Philippines by the end of April because her 10-year-old son Tyrone’s autism is deemed a potential financial burden on the Australian community.
The nurse’s application for a Skilled Regional Sponsored visa last year was rejected because Tyrone didn’t pass the health requirements and an appeal to the Migration Review Tribunal has also failed.
“My final hope is to get Immigration Minister Peter Dutton to think about our future,” Ms Sevilla said.
“I can only hope and pray for the minister’s intervention – Mr Dutton has the power to give a permanent visa instead of temporary visa.
“My bridging visa expires on April 27 and after this I will face the real risk of being deported back to the Philippines.
“Townsville has been my home for past seven years; many close family members including my mother, stepfather, brother, aunties uncles live here and provide support along with the Catholic and wider community.”
Among many supporting Ms Sevilla’s bid is Fr Dave Lancini, parish priest of the Ministerial Region of Good Shepherd in Kirwan and the Upper Ross areas of Townsville.
He has been encouraging parishioners to support Ms Sevilla by sending letters to politicians.
Fr Lancini has also just written letters to Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Immigration Minister Peter Dutton to put his parishioners’ case for visas to allow them to remain in Australia.
“Maria’s a lovely person; if anyone deserves permanent residency it’s Maria and her son Tyrone,” he said.
“I explain in the letters that Maria and Tyrone have been my parishioners for the past six years and they and their family mix easily with others in the community.
“The mother and son are extremely well liked and highly regarded by parishioners.
“Maria has worked extremely hard to better herself with a good education and obtained permanent employment.
“Since arriving in Australia, she has obtained a Bachelor of Nursing degree with the James Cook University here in Townsville.
“Maria is employed by Queensland Health at the Townsville Hospital where she is highly regarded in her position as a clinical nurse.
“The position is ongoing and enables Maria to not be a financial burden on the government for either herself or Tyrone.”
Fr Lancini said in the letter “that children with autism spectrum disorder have great trouble coping with changes in their life” and that a forced return to the Philippines would be “devastating” for mother and son.
He also wrote in his letter to the Prime Minister and Minister that a local general practitioner Dr Praveen Kumar had offered to look after all Tyrone’s medical expenses until he was 18.
Fr Lancini said since this letter had been sent, Dr Kumar had started a trust fund into which he had contributed $5000. Other doctors have also contributed and the fund now stands at $11,000.
“If the boy and his mother are rejected by the government because of his autism that will show as a community we lack compassion – this attitude would indicate yet again the end of the old Australian notion of the fair go,” he said.
A change.org campaign has drawn in excess of 87,000 signatures in support of Ms Sevilla and Tyrone. They need 100,000 signatures.
Immigration Minister Peter Dutton was reported to have said the family could go back to the tribunal and attempt again to sway its decision.
Queensland Nurses Union secretary Beth Mohle has made a submission calling on Mr Dutton to grant the pair a visa and said Townsville Hospital would be losing valuable expertise if Maria was deported.
The QNU is also trying to organise a meeting with Minister Dutton and will pay to fly Ms Sevilla down to Brisbane.
Meanwhile Ms Sevilla remains in limbo, relying on her own faith and family and community support to see a good outcome.
She agreed it was ironic the issue should be reaching a head in a month dedicated to autism awareness around the world.
“It’s a big month in the news in Australia for autism, isn’t it,” she said.
“We’ve just heard about the 11-year-old boy Luke being found after being lost for four days in the bush near Melbourne,” she said.
“This gives me hope; however, I also fear what would happen if we were sent back to the Philippines.
“If Tyrone got lost what would happen?
“I don’t think they would have resources like choppers and volunteers in the Philippines to spend so long looking for him.”
Click here to sign the petition to Minister for Immigration and Border Protection The Hon. Peter Dutton, MP.