After eight years in New Zealand Dinesha Amarasinghe, her husband Sam Wijerathne and their three sons have been told they are to be deported to their birth country as Dinesha, the primary visa holder, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis three years ago.
A humanitarian appeal has been lodged but the family’s future remains uncertain.
About 400 people marched through streets more familiar to tourist buses than protests, many with tears in their eyes, to show their support for the family.
Clutha-Southland MP Hamish Walker organised the march and walked with the family at the front leading a chant of “We support” as others joined the crowd. Ultimately the crowd finished with the rally cry: “Let them stay”.
Teachers and class mates from Queenstown Primary School attended, volunteers firefighters, representatives from social services and people who have been moved by the family’s story.
Some people said it was the first time they had marched for any reason.
Walker said he thought it was first time in New Zealand a public march had been held to support a family in this type of situation.
Baskets of Blessings co-ordinator Tam Schurmann has been supporting the family and told the crowd she was “entirely and completely heartbroken” when she first visited the family in the one-bedroom cabin they call home in the former Queenstown Camping ground.
“There was a despair that filled the room. The boys hung their heads, there was very little food on the table and Dinesha and Sam were full of tears, full of despair, vulnerable and with a feeling a nobody was backing them in a situation which was dire.”
The march was “an outpouring of love for a family that we respect and we want as part of Queenstown,” she said.
Many people in Queenstown had moved from foreign countries and knew immigration was not easy, she said.
The family had a good life in Sri Lanka, despite the threat of crime and corruption, but had moved to New Zealand for a better future for their children.
They were hard working, volunteered in the community, helped at school and the children were doing exceptionally well at school.
“We don’t want to to see them leave. Especially now. Dinesha needs us more than ever,” she said.
In Sri Lanka they would face crime and danger.
“They face financial hardship in their lives because everything they came over with has been put into surviving in this country, put into visas and immigration applications. They have nothing to go back to.
“Dinesha’s medicine can’t even be found in Sri Lanka. The children don’t speak the language and for Sam to go off to work means there will be no supervision for these three young boys.”
“This is the heart of Queenstown exposed right here…Incredible support and I believe that when the Minister of Immigration…sees this outpouring of support, I believe that his heart will be filled with compassion. I believe that this is a powerful voice to have Dinesha and Sam and the boys stay in New Zealand.”
Sam emotionally thanked the crowd for their support and said his family was going through a really tough time.
“I had a good life in my country but came here to get a better future for my kids…after five years my wife is diagnosed with MS.”
Walker said it showed what a “a wonderful, caring place Queenstown is.”
“I am so proud of my community.
Marchers Melissa Copland said her sons were friends with the boys at school.
“They’re lovely. They’ve been around home and they play a mean game of cricket,” she said. (Colombo Gazette)