Down syndrome girl still battling for visa


Father approaches Minister for Women to plead daughter’s case, while campaign lobbying Immigration Minister gains momentum

Angelo Fonseka had little to celebrate this Christmas.

It was another “very hard” day the Sri Lankan Christian missionary had to spend separated from his family, after his daughter Eliza was denied an Australian visa because she has Down’s syndrome.

But Fonseka is hopeful of soon being reunited with his wife Shanoline Morrison-Fonseka and his nine-year-old, thanks to a chance meeting with Minister for Women Michaelia Cash in Perth before Christmas.

“I saw Michaelia Cash in a shop,” Fonseka told the Indian Sun. “I thought I recognised her, but then I had to check Google to be sure.”

Amid the festive shopping frenzy, Fonseka approached the West Australian Senator to plead Eliza’s case. Afterwards, he said it took only “one or two days” for the minister to act – appointing staff to the matter and moving to submit an official intervention. “I know it will be a great help,” he said.

It comes after the Immigration Department issued temporary work visas to Eliza’s parents in December 2014, but not to the child – forcing the family to separate. Angelo moved to the remote community of Shark Bay, in Western Australia, to work in a Christian ministry in March, while his wife and daughter remained behind in Sri Lanka’s capital Colombo.

Since moving to Australia, Fonseka has been working in the Shark Bay Christian Fellowship Crisis Centre and became involved in the Western Australian Cricket Association.

Meanwhile, a campaign has been building to lobby Immigration Minister Peter Dutton to intervene in Eliza’s visa case on compassionate grounds – it now has the backing of local, state and federal politicians, disability organisations, and even Cricket Australia.

Letters lobbying Mr Dutton mention that Eliza is unlikely to be a burden on Australian taxpayers as she has a mild form of Down’s syndrome has never been admitted to hospital for treatment, and the family has private health cover. Her family and the Shark Bay Christian Fellowship have also supplied a Letter of Indemnity to the government, stating exemption for any medical and hospital, as well as repatriation costs for the whole family.

Writing to Mr Dutton in July, Cricket Australia’s Government and Community Relations Manager Grant Poulter backed Fonseka as a talented cricketer and coach, who previously represented Sri Lanka in underage cricket. “He is likely to soon be engaged by the WACA to delivery cricket programs in Shark Bay,” Poulter wrote. Cricket legends Ian and Greg Chappell have also rallied around to support the Fonseka family.

The family first applied to come to Australia in 2006, their application sponsored by family and local Shark Bay Pastor Tim Hargreaves. Fonseka said they had wanted to leave Colombo because all of their close relatives lived in Australia, including his wife’s parents and his sister. “Like any family, we would love to be with our family,” he said.

Fonseka said being apart had brought he and his wife closer to God. “I speak to my wife everyday on Skype, we even study the Bible online,” he said.

And despite the separation stretching on for more than nine months now, Fonseka remains grateful for the support he’s received in Australia. “Honestly it’s more than I expected,” he said. “The people over here are very supportive, and I’m so grateful.”

But he has no idea how much longer it could take to find out whether the Department of Immigration’s decision to deny the visa will be overturned, saying only: “I have a good feeling it won’t take long.”

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