Terminally ill Fijian woman allowed to stay in New Zealand

Positively enjoying life are Melaia Vakalala and daughter Asenaca Vakalala Kuruduadua.
Mytchall Bransgrove/Fairfax NZ

Positively enjoying life are Melaia Vakalala and daughter Asenaca Vakalala Kuruduadua.

A terminally ill Fijian overstayer living in Timaru has been granted a visitor visa after successfully appealing to the Immigration and Protection Tribunal on humanitarian grounds.

Successful humanitarian appeals from terminally ill people are rare. Records going back to 1991 show only five successful appeals, and only two of those submitted by the terminally ill person themselves.

Forty year-old Melaia Vakalala learned last week that her appeal had been successful. It was lodged in October. The appeal also included her six-year-old daughter Asenaca Vakalala Kuruduadua, who along with Vakalala is a citizen of Fiji.

"I can actually sleep well at night knowing I have gotten the visa and my daughter has been granted residency,"  she said.

She says her case is "unusual" because while she has been granted a visitor visa for 12 months her daughter has been granted a resident visa.

"Normally she would be granted a resident visa because of me but not in this case. We have both been treated separately."

The primary reason for Vakalala being granted the visa was the state of her health and the non-availability of palliative care in Fiji. She was diagnosed with metastatic melanoma (advanced skin cancer) in December 2013. She said the fact all her family was in Timaru and that she was paying for her own treatment were also factors.

Vakalala's parents moved to New Zealand with her brother in 2000 (all are New Zealand citizens) but she stayed on in Fiji because she was working as a teacher . She got married and her daughter was born in December 2008, but three years ago she separated from her husband.

"I first came to New Zealand in 2003 to visit my family with more visits in 2004." In 2006 she developed ovarian cysts and came back to New Zealand to be operated on. In 2012 she was diagnosed as having a tumour.

"In December 2013 I came back to New Zealand to look after my mother after my father was killed in a motor vehicle accident and I was granted a visitor's visa valid till April 2014." 

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She was also diagnosed with incurable advanced skin cancer after her arrival in December 2013 and although she applied for further visitor visas in May 2014, Immigration New Zealand declined her application because she did not meet the health requirements. Vakalala, with help from her mother, has been paying for all her medical procedures.

Vakalala and her daughter officially became overstayers in September, 2014.

Her humanitarian appeal was lodged the following month. The Immigration Act 2009 provides for "exceptional circumstances of a humanitarian nature which would make deportment unjust or unduly harsh, and it would not be contrary to public interest to allow the person to stay in New Zealand".

She is extremely grateful for the support of her family, doctors, her lawyer and immigration.

Vakalala's case is not the first of its kind. The last one was on Oct 31, 2014 when a 51-year-old Fijian citizen married to a New Zealand resident was granted a resident visa after his appeal on humanitarian grounds because he was terminally ill (stage 3 thymic carcinoma). 

 - Stuff

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