By Bejay Browne
THE FATHER of a baby girl who was treated in Israel in a life saving operation after the minister of health stepped in, was arrested during an immigration swoop on Sunday.
He was volunteering for charity PASYKAF (the Association of Cancer Patients and Friends) at the time.
Although the parents’ visas have expired, they say they had been told by the authorities that they could remain in Cyprus at least until baby Zoe’s treatment was completed. She has her next scheduled appointment at Makarios Hospital on October 20.
The couple’s legal representative also sent a written request to the interior ministry three weeks ago that the family be allowed to remain in Cyprus on humanitarian grounds. She says she is awaiting a response.
Zoe Dhull was born at Paphos general hospital on June 25, 2013 to parents Virginia Taguinay, 33, from the Philippines and John (Sanjeev) Dhull, 32, from India. She was a healthy three kilos and the family planned to leave Cyprus shortly after her birth.
Two days later she experienced severe breathing complications caused by a heart defect which had gone undetected during pregnancy.
The baby was rushed to the Makarios Hospital in Nicosia. Her parents had less than two weeks to raise the €15,000 needed to pay for a vital cardiac catheterisation procedure in Israel, as the operation could not be done in Cyprus. The couple had no private medical insurance and was unable to obtain a state medical card, which would have covered the medical expenses, as their visas had expired.
Members of PASYKAF originally contacted the Cyprus Mail in desperation over Zoe’s plight. The baby’s father has helped out as a volunteer at the charity’s shop every weekend for the last few years.
When the Cyprus Mail covered Zoe’s desperate situation on its front page in 2013, the health ministry stepped in and offered to pay the costs of the heart operation.
At just three weeks old Zoe underwent the operation on July 7 at the Schneider Children’s Medical Centre in Israel.
“This Sunday was no different from usual,” said Don Finlayson a volunteer driver for the charity’s shop in central Paphos which is run by wife Dolly.
“Every Sunday John volunteers in the shop for three hours. He’s helpful and a very good man. We were taking cardboard up to the recycling bins at Dasoudi Park where PASYKAF was holding a fund raising event, before taking regular bags of donations down to the Paphos mosque.”
According to Finlayson, he and Dhull had no sooner opened the back of the branded PASYKAF van to unload the rubbish when an immigration officer appeared.
“Before we knew it there were around nine officers around us. Three of them were interrogating John. I told them he was a volunteer and didn’t get paid but they handcuffed him along with some others and put him in their unmarked people carrier which already had other people in it.”
Finlayson then had to break the news to Dhull’s wife Virginia who was at home with Zoe at the time.
“She was shellshocked,” he said.
The family lives on the poverty line and are members of the local Catholic Church. They are reliant on help from them, their friends and the charity Solidarity.
They had hoped that the ministry of health would grant Zoe a medical card to cover other costs of almost €7,000, which have been incurred due to the baby’s poor health.
These include hospital stays at both Paphos and Makarios, as well as medication which kept the baby alive. The family has no way of covering these costs on their own.
Although Zoe is now doing well, she may have to undergo a further procedure to keep a valve to her heart open, said her mother. The one-year-old still has to visit the Makarios Hospital in Nicosia periodically.
Recently, the family turned to Caritas for help. They provide legal and social advice, counselling and assistance through volunteers and other non-governmental organisations.
Their legal advisor said that as the family has remained in Cyprus ‘irregularly’ for quite a while, legally the state has the right to deport them. “Even if they were told they could stay until the baby’s treatment is complete, these things are often not adhered too, it happens a lot,” said the legal adviser.
A spokesperson for the ministry of health said Dhull’s arrest was legal as immigration officers would have found him without a valid visa. However, they have promised to look at his situation.
“We have requested the case files from the migration department,” she said. Dhull is being held at Paphos police station.