Looking beyond disability

In this podcast Celeste Marinelli looks at the story of a Monash University academic denied permanent residency because of his autistic son.


Biswajit Banik: I had always had trust on Australian society and Australian people from my heart I always knew justice would come.

Celeste Marinelli:  What lengths would you go to protect the safety and wellbeing of a loved one? How would you feel if your hard work and dedication towards your career was jeopardized? How would you react having to relocate away from the home you built and starting from scratch?

These thoughts were a reality for Dr Biswajit ‘Jit’ Banik and his wife Dr Sarmin Sayeed. The Australian Government denied them permanent residency in Australia due to their twelve-year-old son Arkojeet being diagnosed with a mild case of autism.

Arkojeet’s parents have lived in Australia for ten years and have contributed greatly to the community through their medical expertise. Dr. Banik being an academic at Monash University in Melbourne and Dr. Sayeed a trusted general practitioner in suburban Melbourne.

The family has lived in Australia for almost ten years but the immigration Minister of Ministerial Intervention denied their application for permanent residency as they considered their son’s disability to be a burden.

Celeste Marinelli:  What made you choose Australia to call home?

Biswajit Banik: We came in 2007 then my wife got scholarship from Monash University to do her masters we came, I got my scholarship to do a PhD at Latrobe university and them I submitted my PhD in 2012, got a job here at Monash.

In the mean time my son was diagnosed with mild autism he started schooling here which is not possible in Bangladesh so many factors played a role to make an application for permanent residency in Australia.

Celeste Marinelli:  According to a Unicef report in 2014 education in Bangladesh for disabled children is not apart of the mainstream, programs specifically aimed at children with autism are held by private institutions.  Amongst the Bangladesh culture children with a disability are considered a burden in society. The safety and protection of children with disabilities in Bangladesh is limited as they are exposed to violence and abuse due to the community’s negative view upon disability.

These facts are the main reason why the Banik family feared their possible return back to Bangladesh as their son’s safety was and still is their main priority.

Biswajit Banik: In Bangladesh we have few private initiatives but teachers aren’t trained enough. Infectious illnesses are higher there rather than disability problems they are considered a mad person or lunatic there they would get bullied in the society.

Celeste Marinelli: If you were denied asylum what would you have thought?

Biswajit Banik: Getting a job making money isn’t a big deal any where we go in the world we will survive the most important part was that Arko would not go to school the progress he had would be staying at home because the support there is not exist in Bangladesh.”

Celeste Marinelli: Australian immigration laws require individuals who are seeking asylum to undergo health checks.

Autism being a condition, which causes people to have difficulty communicating and struggle to understand basic concepts, is considered by the Australian government to not be of satisfactory health when trying to seek asylum.

Lawyer Katie Alamantis from Maddocks law firm in Melbourne talks about the implications of this case.

Katie Alamantis: I’ve been a lawyer for two and half years specialise in litigation law, essentially it is going to court so if clients think that they’ve got a clause of action against another party they come to us and ask us to look at their case and assess whether there are merits.”

Celeste Marinelli: In terms of the Banik’s family situation about asylum in Australia why do you think the government would make a decision based around a child having autism?

Katie Alamantis: Part of law involves, in this area involves people undergoing health assessments and I think that, that would be the reason why that would be an issue.

Celeste Marinelli: Considering they have lived here for ten years do you think its fair judgment dismissing the fact that they have contributed taxes?

Katie Alamantis: It would be a shame for people living in the community for ten years having to undergo that but unfortunately that is the legal system they have found themselves in.

Generally speaking we’ve got laws that you can’t discriminate on the basis of disability but I think in the context of immigration it’s a bit different cause it’s people coming into the country and health conditions have to be satisfied before a visa can be given.

I think were pretty good in Australia on that regard obviously that is reflective on what society thinks which is that it shouldn’t be used against you and you should be able to still go a head and have a for filling life and do the things that you want to do

Biswajit Banik: It’s their policy in Australian migration system they have deliberately given a power to discriminate against disability migration.

Celeste Marinelli: How has your son impacted your life?

Biswajit Banik: It is challenging he is a special child we never denied that so managing him is a difficult task  given our commitment to work and demanding job we do my wife works in the afternoon and evenings and weekends and I have a flexible work management with Monash University.

It’s manageable we pay from our own money and then day to today he is a lot verbal he’s improved a lot he’s now toilet trained and he can talk he expresses his needs he gets cranky but that’s common for all kids in our day she happy with his IPhone/ IPad.

Celeste Marinelli: School teacher, Vanessa Halliburton from the Southern Autistic School in Bentleigh has taught for ten years, she shares what inspired her to teach as well as give insight into how children with autism learn to improve living with their disability.

Celeste Marinelli: What kind of inspired you to take this career path?

Vanessa Halliburton: For me personally my mum had a sister with a disability so I used to hear stories about here all the time when I was younger so I was always interested in hearing the stories so that really inspired me thinking about that area.

Celeste Marinelli: How do children with autism behave?

Vanessa Halliburton: They’re very routine based very repetitive, every child is completely different it’s a spectrum. Every child you come across with autism has it presented very differently.

Celeste Marinelli: What activates are involved to help them improve and learn?

Vanessa Halliburton: A lot of visuals used, they are very visual learners sometimes the verbal is in one ear out the other, but visuals are very concrete so it doesn’t go away when it comes to communication issues the visuals really help.

There’s a lot of repetition and it could take a long time, like I’ve had a student for three years and it might take a year or two for a skill to be learnt. It might be small gains but it’s still very exciting.

Celeste Marinelli:  What’s the main goal for you?

Vanessa Halliburton: Independence, I think that’s the main thing. Just independence in all areas and functional communication being able to get by in life functionally that’s a huge part as well and social skills being to understand social situations and being able to be apart of a social situation.

Celeste Marinelli: What is the most rewarding part about your job?

Vanessa Halliburton:  Probably just seeing things click, just working on a skill and seeing the child use it independently. Doing something as basic as learning to zip up their jacket just something like that or it could be more academic type skill. When it clicks and you see them doing it independently I find that quite rewarding I get excited.

I just think that every child should have the right to learn. My class in particular are very multicultural to think that some of these kids have to go back to a country where they don’t have the support or the resources I guess that they don’t have here in Australia is real shame.

Celeste Marinelli: The family has now been granted permanent asylum in Australia which has created a great sense of relief amongst the family as the future of their son’s education and safety will not be jeopardised.

Biswajit Banik: After having permanent residency we had a funny feeling everything’s the same nothings changed its just a piece of paper that’s it I still work demanding work, go to school look after our lives. It’s strange why they gave us this pain I don’t know.

It’s a big relief the anxiety we had being unsure about our future no one has control on what is going to happen in the future at least we know we wont be kicked out of Australia at least now we can plan a little properly.

Celeste Marinelli: Dr Banik express how grateful he is to have received a huge amount of support from his fellow uni students and that their input had the greatest impact on changing the governments decision.

Biswajit Banik: Monash university, Melbourne University, Latrobe university and RMIT university students they actually played one of the strongest role to advocate and bring all this protest in different campuses so our voices are insured to be heard by the minister and that is a success as a teacher at Monash.

These are policies in general there are circumstances were the minister has seen things outside of the box he’s a special person so he must have trust, our case was quite strong in a way the benefit we bring to Australia and the work we do is unique and exceptional nature

So that doesn’t mean people without that skill should be discriminated I think it most importantly these are all children they are all special child regardless what circumstances the parents have it should be seen at a different angle. So that was seen by the Australian people they comment they made, some of them said that even if Arko’s parents are not doctors he should still have the right to stay in Australia. This is something we want to hear by people non-judgmental not discriminating for a right of a child.

Celeste Marinelli: When Dr. Banik shares his final thought about what the future will bring for him and his family.

Biswajit Banik: Most important giving Arkojeet opportunity to become and independent person more capable to contribute to Australia as a good citizen not considered as a burden in society.

Celeste Marinelli: It’s amazing how change can happen when everybody with a passion joins forces and speaks up for something they believe in further impacting someones life for the better, Dr. Banik and his family are proof of this achievement. If you have a desire to raise awareness of an issue you can start your own petition on change.org.