Editorial: Rigid visa system lacks compassion

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Fijian patient ought to have received help here.

Sanil Kumara. Photo / Richard Robinson
Sanil Kumara. Photo / Richard Robinson

The integrity of this country's immigration system is, of course, very important. If exemptions are granted too frequently, there will, inevitably, be a muddying of the rules. But that system must not be applied so austerely as to appear utterly inflexible. Occasionally, there will be an instance that suggests a relaxation of the rules on compassionate grounds may be warranted. Such a case appears to have been that of Sanil Kumar, who died on Monday in Lautoka Hospital after being deported to Fiji a month ago.

Mr Kumar, a 30-year-old metal tradesman, had been working in this country since 2010. Last July, however, Immigration New Zealand refused to renew his visa because a labour market test found there were New Zealanders suitable for his job. The complication for Mr Kumar was that he was waiting for a kidney transplant. Deporting him would, he said, be a "death sentence", because Fiji did not provide transplants.

Mr Kumar wanted to remain in Auckland, on daily dialysis, until he could get a transplant, an operation that required the raising of $130,000.

When he was deported, a cousin was part way through a tissue-matching procedure to be a donor. Other members of his family had raised $120,000 through fundraisers, raffles and donations. This, obviously, was a substantial achievement.

Despite that, the Associate Immigration Minister, Nikki Kaye, declined to intervene in the case. Immigration officials, for their part, suggested that if Mr Kumar left voluntarily, he would be able to return on a temporary visa for a transplant once he had raised the funds for an operation. But if he was deported, he would be banned from returning to New Zealand for five years.

Two factors perhaps persuaded Mr Kumar to proceed down a road that led to deportation. One was his fear of the high infection rates in the treatment of renal diseases in Fiji. His death, according to the Labour immigration spokesman, Rajen Prasad, came after he contracted an infection. Secondly, Mr Kumar may have felt that if the $130,000, or something close to that total, was raised, it would be very difficult, on humanitarian grounds, to deport him.

That hope proved groundless. It may not have helped him that he politicised his case by involving Dr Prasad. The MP garnered substantial publicity in urging the Government to be humane to a migrant who was costing the state nothing. He also posed the most relevant of questions after learning of Mr Kumar's death "I can't see what would have been the harm to New Zealand if Sanil had been allowed to go through his procedure here, " Dr Prasad said.

It is not altogether right to say that Mr Kumar was not a cost on the state. He had already incurred a healthcare debt of $36,000. But that sum pales beside the extent of the fundraising for Mr Kumar and, more fundamentally, the desirability of the New Zealand health system providing as much help as possible to the citizens of nearby countries in such circumstances. Such help is the more valuable when, according to the Health Ministry, Fiji funds only three months of dialysis treatment, after which the best option is the fraught proposition of a transplant in India.

Ms Kaye has accused Dr Prasad of making "inaccurate statements". What these are is unclear because she said Mr Kumar had declined to give her a privacy waiver to discuss the case. That is unfortunate; the impression left is of a system that could be more compassionate. Ms Kaye has also talked of the need to protect that system's integrity. She is certainly right, but that can never become the be-all and end-all.

Debate on this article is now closed.

- NZ Herald

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