The story of Eleni Tsampouri, a recent migrant from Greece and her two children – on one level – demonstrates the culture of indifference amongst political elites to the plight of everyday people who have no power or money. On another level, it is a story that proves the immense positive difference that communal action can make to the lives of people like Eleni, who are recent migrants or refuges and are trying to find their way in their new country.
The ‘indifference’ noted in Eleni’s story relates to the leadership of a key figure in the settlement process of migrants in Australia, the Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs, David Coleman, MP. The ‘positive difference’ has everything to do with the Greek Orthodox Community of Oakleigh and Districts and the president Angelo Sardelis, who listened to the plight of this newly arrived migrant and acted swiftly.
Eleni’s story is not unique. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of people who end up in the same conundrum like her. Australian citizens like her, who had to pull their children out of school, because they could not afford thousands of dollars for international student fees, they had to pay.
Eleni came to Australia, a year and a half ago. She wasn’t born here but in Greece. She became an Australian citizen by descent but she did so after she had her two children. This rendered her two boys Kon 12 and Panos 8, ineligible to acquire Australian citizenship by descent. Panos and Kon had to apply for permanent residence visas, meet the relevant criteria, one of them being living in Australia for a certain period of time in order to be able to eventually apply for Australian citizenship.
Eleni as a single mum without secure employment in Greece decided to come to Australia by herself, work hard and save so she could at some stage afford the fees necessary to apply for her sons’ permanent residence visa. Panos and Kon remained in Greece and in the care of her two elderly parents.
A year later, last August to be precise, she managed to have saved the $5,000 necessary to pay her children’s visas and enough funds to support them and care for her elderly parents.
Eleni reunited with her family in Australia. She applied for her sons’ permanent visa as soon as she could get the paperwork ready and, when lodging the applications, was informed by the department that the process would take at least 12 months. Panos and Kon were granted a bridging visa.
The next important move for the mental well-being of her children was to enrol them into school in an effort to restore some normality in their lives. Eleni chose a public primary school close to their home.
She almost had a heart attack no more than a month later when she was hit with a bill of $7,000 for school fees for the last term of her children’s schooling. “I found out that the bridging visa did not give my children free access to the public school system and that they would be treated like international students. I couldn’t afford to pay this money,” she told Neos Kosmos.
“I am working hard already but no matter how much harder I was going to work I still couldn’t afford it,” she added.
And then she made one of the most difficult decisions a parent can make. She pulled her children out of school seeking the help of her local member of parliament, Julian Hill MP, to help her in her effort to persuade the department to speed up the process.
Julian Hill, a Labor MP who has recently criticized the minister for Home Affairs, Peter Dutton, for privatizing the visa system creating extraordinary delays in processing applications, took the issue under his wings.
He has written to Minister Coleman asking him to intervene and help Eleni on compassionate grounds, so her children can attend school again.
“I wrote a letter, I called them, I called them again and again but no response,” Mr Hill told Neos Kosmos noting at the same time that he was astounded by the level of Minister’s apathy.
“Eleni is an Australian citizen who has been abandoned by the Liberal Government. Peter Dutton has cut thousands of staff from frontline services which has real impacts on people like Eleni and her children. Instead of fixing their mess, the Liberal Government is hellbent on privatising Australia’s visa system, putting at risk thousands more jobs and public services.
Morrison’s Ministers have simply given up and don’t even respond to letters, emails or phone any more,” he added.
Neos Kosmos had the same ‘ministerial’ treatment when the newspaper contacted Mr Coleman explaining Eleni’s situation and requesting an intervention to ensure that Panos and Kon could enjoy the basic human right to education as every other child.
There was no response. The difference between him and the president of Greek Orthodox Community of Oakleigh and Districts, Angelo Sardelis, is stark.
Neos Kosmos informed Mr Sardelis of the unfortunate situation Eleni and her two sons had found themselves on Tuesday. In less than 24 hours he and the Principal of Oakleigh Grammar, Mark Robertson, had opened the doors of Oakleigh Grammar to Eleni’s sons.
“It is unacceptable for any child to not be able to go to school. We had helped families in the past and we are doing it once more. For a symbolic fee Panos and Kon as of tomorrow are joining Oakleigh Grammar’s school community,” said Mr Robertson.
“That is all I wanted for my children to go back to school and start their lives in Australia. I am eternally grateful to the Community and the school,” said Eleni when we contacted her after the happy ending to her family’s ordeal. As for Minister Coleman’s attitude towards the issue, you can be the judge of it.