By Paul Dobbyn
THREE Townsville Catholics in a battle with the Immigration Department to stay in Australia are smiling with relief – and fellow parishioners are offering prayers of thanks – following ministerial intervention to stop their deportations.
Townsville Hospital nurse Maria Sevilla and her 10-year-old son Tyrone celebrated becoming permanent residents of Australia at a morning tea after Mass at the Good Shepherd community centre last Sunday (July 5).
Afghani Patrick Wilson can also finally smile again after nine months in detention.
He’s just learnt that Federal Immigration Minister Peter Dutton will intervene in his case and allow him to lodge an application for a Temporary Protection Visa (TPV).
A regular Sunday Mass attendee at St Francis Xavier Church, Railway Estate, Mr Wilson had become a successful local businessman since arriving in Townsville in early 2013.
The 31-year-old asylum seeker was detained at Wickham Point detention centre, near Darwin, in September last year after a trip to Cairns.
He was attending what he thought was a regular Department of Immigration and Citizenship meeting with departmental officers about his bridging visa when he was detained.
Townsville’s Sacred Heart Cathedral parish manager Steve Sutton, who was particularly involved in Mr Wilson’s case, said there was an atmosphere of joy across the community at the news of the Government’s change of heart.
“These decisions speak volumes for Christian solidarity and the power of prayer,” Mr Sutton said.
Ms Sevilla and her son were on the verge of being sent back to the Philippines, their home country, after her skilled visa application was rejected on the grounds her autistic son would be a burden to taxpayers.
Among many supporting Ms Sevilla’s bid was Fr Dave Lancini, parish priest of the Ministerial Region of Good Shepherd in Kirwan and the Upper Ross areas of Townsville.
He encouraged parishioners to support Ms Sevilla by sending letters to politicians. A 4000-page petition was presented to Mr Dutton’s Brisbane office in April asking for him to intervene.
In late May, Mr Dutton decided to overturn the deportation order and said the mother and her son could apply for permanent residency.
Ms Sevilla last week thanked all who had encouraged her during the five-year ordeal.
“We are so lucky that we have a lot of people supporting us like the nurses’ union, my church, my colleagues and family,” she said.
“I would like to thank each and every one of them.”
Mr Wilson, who became a Catholic in 2013, changed his Afghani name last September to reflect his respect for his main mentors through the RCIA program, Adelaide Archbishop Philip Wilson and Christian Brother Patrick Cronin.
Mr Sutton said the fear at the time of Mr Wilson’s detainment was that he would be deported back to Afghanistan.
“This would have been a certain death sentence,” he said. “First of all there was the issue of Patrick becoming a Christian.
“The death penalty applies for apostasy (conversion from Islam) in Afghanistan.
“Patrick is also a member of the Hazara minority group who have been persecuted over many years. He had already experienced the horror of his father being murdered by the Taliban.”
Concern over his predicament led to a groundswell of support from Catholic agencies including Caritas and the Edmund Rice Centre and various Christian denominations. Townsville Knights of the Southern Cross also got behind a campaign which sent a petition to the Immigration Minister. The campaign spread across Australian parishes.
Mr Sutton said the Minister’s decision on Mr Wilson had taken everyone by surprise “but is immensely welcome”.
“There is a great sense of justice in Minister Dutton’s decision to allow Patrick to make an application for a visa,” he said. “It means we are no longer jailing an innocent refugee. The Minister is to be congratulated and applauded.”
A Department of Immigration and Border Protection spokesperson confirmed Minister Dutton “had exercised his power to lift the 46A(2) bar under the Migration Act for the client, allowing him to lodge a valid Temporary Protection Visa (TPV)”.