Girl with Down syndrome almost kicked out of New Zealand until last-minute reprieve

New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern, Down syndrome

New Zealand has continued to make it clear that people with disabilities are not welcome in the country, as yet another child with Down syndrome was threatened with expulsion, purely due to her disability.

A two-year-old girl with Down syndrome, who was born in New Zealand to Thai parents, was nearly deported, until an appeal gave her a 12-month extension on her visa. According to the New Zealand Herald, the girl’s parents are from Thailand and work in the country as chefs. Her parents have essential skills work visas, with their employers testifying they are “highly valued, excellent chefs with skills in short supply.”

Yet their daughter was deemed to be a potential burden on the New Zealand health care services, solely because she has Down syndrome. According to the New Zealand Herald, she was not eligible for citizenship by birth due to a law stating that anyone born in the country after January 1, 2006, must have at least one parent who is a citizen or permanent resident.

Authorities threatened to send her back to Thailand, without her parents, despite the fact that Thailand was in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. The mortality rate for people with Down syndrome who contract COVID-19 is 10 times higher than that of the general population, and the little girl also has other health complications.

READ: Australians with Down syndrome are being denied the ability to vote

In addition to needing a feeding tube, she has eye problems and has undergone open-heart surgery to repair an atrioventricular septal defect — holes between the left and right chambers of the heart.

The New Zealand immigration department said this is not an acceptable standard of health for them to accept her residency. “The applicant is likely to require care (including family care) substantially in excess of what is required for other children of the same age, as well as high cost medical specialist care and monitoring,” the medical assessment read. Yet her doctors all disagreed, with her heart and eye doctors specifically testifying that she did not need to undergo any more procedures, or need specialized care at this time.

This little girl is not the first child with Down syndrome to face expulsion from New Zealand.

A teen girl from India was denied residency simply because she has Down syndrome, while residency was approved for her parents and sister. “[S]he was considered likely to impose significant costs or demands on New Zealand’s special education services and she remained not of an acceptable standard of health,” the immigration document for her said. “The medical referee also noted that the appellant’s overall thinking and reasoning abilities were below all but 0.1 percent of children her age and therefore she had an intellectual disability requiring significant support.” That family decided not to immigrate to New Zealand.

Another family, this time from Britain, faced the same discrimination towards their daughter with Down syndrome. The mother in that case had been recruited for a prestigious job, but because their daughter was not approved for residency, they turned it down and went to Dublin instead.

In the Thai family’s case, this is a literal matter of life and death. The girl’s general practitioner, Dr. Mikaere, said sending her back to Thailand in the midst of a pandemic would essentially be giving her a “death sentence.” It would also force her family to be separated. For now, the little girl is allowed to stay, but the mercy will clearly be short-lived — the goal still seems to be to kick her out of the country once the pandemic dies down.

“This [12-month extension] is to give her the opportunity to remain with her parents in New Zealand in the hope that the Covid-19 crisis in Thailand is more contained by the end of 2022,” Immigration Tribunal member Sharelle Aitchison said. “During the next 12 months, her parents will need to make decisions about her and their own futures but, in the interim, she can remain with them.”

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