Obese immigrant's plight hits headlines
A Christchurch immigrant facing deportation for being obese has received no news from Government officials despite his plight hitting international headlines.
The Press revealed on Saturday the case of Albert and Marthie Buitenhuis, who are facing deportation because Albert is medically obese.
Despite worldwide coverage of their situation, Albert Buitenhuis said he had heard nothing from Associate Immigration Minister Nikki Kaye.
The Buitenhuis moved to Christchurch from South Africa in 2007 and has worked in a local restaurant ever since.
The couple were issued work visas and Albert's weight was never raised.
However, after starting the application for permanent residency, Albert's health came under scrutiny from Immigration New Zealand (INZ).
He has a long-standing knee issue that was exacerbated by the Christchurch earthquake and, at 1.78 metres and 130 kilograms, he is considered medically obese.
As a result of the tests, INZ denied the Buitenhuis' their work visas on May 1.
Medical assessors deemed Albert no longer "had an acceptable standard of health", despite the fact he weighed 30kg less than when he first arrived in the country.
Since running in The Press, the Buitenhuis' story has gone viral, with international media including Britain's Daily Mail, BBC News, and The Huffington Post in the United States, reporting the couple's plight.
Marthie Buitenhuis said yesterday she had been "blown away" by the response.
"Who knew that the world would be so interested in the story of a chef from New Zealand? We've had calls from people in India and Denmark wanting to talk to us about it," she said.
Despite the public pressure, Kaye has remained silent on the matter. A spokeswoman from her office said she could not confirm whether the case had yet reached the minister.
"Even if it has, she will not be able to comment while the case is before her," the spokeswoman said.
Labour's immigration spokeswoman Darien Fenton said Kaye needed to "review the case very carefully".
"On the one hand, I do feel very sympathetic for the couple as they have been here for so many years and he has actually lost weight since he got here," she said.
"On the other hand, we do see many migrants who become very sick in hospital and can't afford to pay their bills. "
The Buitenhuis appealed to the Human Rights Commission for help, but the organisation said it could not comment on immigration issues.
The couple had also written to their local MP, Gerry Brownlee.
As a result of fighting INZ they have gone broke, been evicted and were relying on the charity of Albert's sister for help.
"We have no money left," Marthie Buitenhuis said.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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