Couple fighting refugee status rejection lose care of baby
A couple denied refugee status in New Zealand say they would rather take their own lives than risk returning home, where they could be killed for marrying against family wishes.
Adding to their woes, Child Youth and Family have removed their baby.
The Immigration and Protection Tribunal has rejected an appeal by the young couple, who are from India and live in Christchurch, to grant them and their baby either refugee or protected-person status in New Zealand.
The family cannot be named, due to Immigration Act restrictions.
"We are just asking for them to allow us to stay here so we can save our lives," the woman said.
Immigration New Zealand declined to comment about the family other than to say they had been asked to leave the country voluntarily.
In a conversation with health professionals prior to the removal of her baby on February 20, the woman said she told them of her distress over the tribunal's decision.
"They asked 'What are you going to do?' I said 'I don't really want to go back to India, I would prefer suiciding here'.
"Then they said 'What would happen to your baby?'. I said 'She is my strength. I don't really want to harm her. She is everything to me'."
Child, Youth and Family Te Waipounamu regional director Theresa Perham said the baby was taken into care due to serious concerns for its safety.
"We will continue to work with the baby's family, however it is essential that the child's safety is the absolute priority."
Perham did not comment about what would happen to the baby when her parents leave New Zealand.
The woman told the tribunal the pair left India for New Zealand in September 2015 claiming they would be persecuted by her wealthy, influential and politically-connected family for their "mis-matched marriage". The visas on which they entered the country expire this year.
The pair had spoken in secret via telephone after they met at school and entered a relationship in 2010. When the woman's parents found out, she said death threats and physical abuse ensued.
The woman said her family threw hot chilli powder in her eyes, beat her, locked her in a room for 20 days and threatened to burn her for "dishonouring the family" using diesel and a match.
She said she learnt her parents planned for her to marry the son of a wealthy family, so she married her now-husband in secret in December 2014.
On the same day they married, the pair obtained a court protection order against the woman's family.
The decision document, which was released last month, said the tribunal accepted the "core of the appellants' account" was true.
While the tribunal agreed the pair faced "a real chance the wife's family will make good on their threat to kill them", the document said the couple did not qualify for refugee status because they could relocate to another large city in India.
Christchurch immigration adviser and Indian Social and Cultural Club treasurer Thomas Shaji Kurian said honour killings were rampant in India.
"The government don't do anything about it. The police don't do anything about it."
He said the couple had no chance of hiding if they were sent back to India.
Immigration lawyer Mark Williams said the threshold for obtaining refugee status in New Zealand was high and it appeared the case had fallen "just short of meeting the bar".
He said the fact the couple had remained in India in close proximity to the woman's family for eight months after they married likely affected their application.
Williams said the couple would have no other New Zealand visa options.
"Essentially if you choose to pursue refugee status, and it is not successful, you cannot apply for any other type of visa onshore. They can't officially even request a special direction from the Minister of Immigration, so will be deported if they do not leave voluntarily."
The woman said she and her husband wanted their baby back so they could seek asylum elsewhere.