Badly burned and falsely accused student fights deportation orderby Maria Slade
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Badly burned, falsely accused of assault, imprisoned and then fired, an Indian student now faces deportation from New Zealand.
Rohit Arora came to New Zealand in 2014 full of hope for a career in computer engineering. But in December 2015 he suffered serious burns when his foot allegedly slipped into a vat of hot oil during a shift at his part-time job at KFC.
His manager at the Papakura branch initially refused to seek medical treatment for him and told him to keep quiet about what happened or he would lose his job, he says.
As he struggled to cope with his injuries his life spiralled out of control. He was accused of assault, thrown in jail, eventually fired anyway, and is facing deportation.
The 24-year-old from the Punjab region can no longer play sport or stand for long periods, and needs ongoing medical treatment which he is unlikely to be able to afford in India. “I have a big scar, sometimes bleeding… It’s a big issue,” he says.
Immigration New Zealand sought his passport from the Manukau District Court this week so it could put him on the next plane back to India, but in an eleventh-hour hearing his lawyers have secured a one-month reprieve.
Told to say the burns happened at home
Despite medical evidence that Arora’s burns were caused by his leg being immersed in something hot and pictures showing the line where his shoe protected him, KFC franchise owner Restaurant Brands disputes that the accident occurred at work.
A case is due to go before the Employment Relations Authority next month.
It happened when he was asked to clean a canopy above the vat, a task he hadn’t been trained in, Arora says. He says his KFC manager told him to say the burn was caused by a spilt chip pan at home.
“He was really pushing me, he was telling me ‘if you tell anyone it happened at work you can lose your job, I can lose my job, you don’t have any place to live, nobody going to look after you, how can you survive this country’.
“I was new, just one year (in New Zealand), I don’t have any other options.”
He spent two weeks in hospital and suffered severe pain and depression in the months that followed. With no-one else to care for him he ended up staying with his then-girlfriend, but the situation turned toxic.
The girlfriend persuaded him to apply for a visa on the basis of their relationship and to let his student visa go. Text messages put before the court show she started asking him and his family for money and threatening to have his visa cancelled if it wasn’t forthcoming. The family refused, and in September 2016 she accused Arora of assaulting her.
As he had no bail address or any other support, Arora was held on remand in Mt Eden Prison for five months until he was finally released to a friend’s Tauranga home in February. He was found not guilty of the assault charges in a judge-only trial in October.
Meanwhile events started to pile up. Immigration New Zealand sought to deport him because of the charges, and Restaurant Brands ended his employment. With no phone or email access in prison Arora missed opportunities to deal with the escalating situation.
His lawyer Edwin Telle argues there are solid humanitarian and other grounds for Arora to be allowed to remain in New Zealand.
“There is strong evidence to support the fact that the charges (against him) were fabricated,” he told the court.
“When the deportation notice and order were served (he) was wrongfully incarcerated and indeed the charge has since been dismissed… (He) has never actually had the right to be heard.”
There is also medical evidence that Arora suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of the accident and associated events, he said.
Telle sought time for the KFC employment case to proceed, and for Arora to complete his medical treatment which is covered by ACC in this country but which he would have to pay for in India.
The court granted one month for Arora to apply to the High Court for an injunction preventing his removal and to seek leave for a judicial review.
His legal team has also appealed to the new Minister of Immigration Iain Lees-Galloway, and written to Green MP and former refugee Golriz Ghahraman.
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