‘My son is going to be left behind’: Brisbane mother’s countdown to deportation | Australia news
Bernadette Romulo still wakes her son Giro early, because that’s what they’ve always done. She drives the children to school. At night they pray.
Romulo knows that, in three weeks, the daily routine will come to an end. Recently, she lost an appeal against an Australian government decision to deport her. Soon she will be sent back to the Philippines and Giro, eight, must stay behind in Brisbane. Until then, the routine is everything: full of small moments to savour, a distraction. Just another day.
“I’m still trying my best,” Romulo told Guardian Australia on Friday. “We still have to do the everyday routine, Giro still needs to go to school. I just need to do what I have to do, what has to be done every day.
“We’ve been in this situation for the last couple of months, in the morning during the day he’s fine and going to school. At night time, when he realises that July 11 is going to be the last day, he can get really sad. He cries when I’m not around. I don’t know if he wants to be brave in front of me. He’s a very brave boy.”
Romulo has lived in Brisbane for more than a decade, and has been on bridging visas for the past five months. Her complex status in the country is the result of two relationship breakdowns.
She came to Australia in 2006 with her then husband, who was on a 457 visa, and two infant daughters. After their relationship ended, Romulo had Giro with a Filipino-Australian man. She left him in 2012.
Romulo’s visa remained linked to her former husband. In December last year, she was denied permanent residency, a decision that inched the family towards the day they would be separated. Romulo must take her daughters, 13 and 12, back to the country they left as infants. Giro must stay in Australia because of custody arrangements with his father.
“It’s very complicated, but it’s just a fact there’s a child involved here,” Romulo said. “We don’t know when we’ll see him again. In the future I’m going to try to come back here, but I just don’t know what’s going to happen.
“It’s the emotion of being heartbroken because my son is going to be left behind. I’ll be fine, but I have to have my son, I have to take my son with us, he’s my son. I’ve been the primary carer since he was born.
“The government is saying ‘OK, go home, go back to where you came from’. My son is going to remember that for the rest of his life.”
Last week, the family was given a date: 11 July. They have to produce plane tickets to prove they are leaving on 5 July. Romulo said she cried and shook for about two hours after receiving the deadline. She has started selling her possessions.
The federal government has said the case was “comprehensively assessed” and that child custody matters were “beyond the scope” of the home affairs department, which makes immigration decisions.
Romulo’s case was placed earlier this year on the desk of the assistant home affairs minister, Alex Hawke, who said at the time he intervened only “in a relatively small number of cases which present unique and exceptional circumstances”. A Change.org petition calling for the government to stop Romulo’s deportation has more than 37,000 signatures.
“I don’t know where to start,” Romulo says. “It’s painful every minute.
“Every day I remind him of what’s going to happen, I’m preparing him. I always tell him, always pray at night, always remember everything that I tell you, be kind to people, spread love to everyone.
“And then I always tell him … I don’t want him to be angry about what happened. He is angry and he wakes up in the morning and he’s angry. He’s a child, he doesn’t really understand things at the moment. I help him, I say keep praying and I will be there always.”
Since ending her relationship with Giro’s father, Romulo says she has worked hard to provide for her three children as a single mother. Her work as an aged care nurse often requires early starts. And so the family still wakes up at 4.30am every day.
“I managed to give my children a comfortable life, I worked hard for them just to keep this family together,” she says.
“It’s torture, it’s torture for me, even if they’re not physically torturing us, it’s torture. But as a mother you have to do your best. So that’s your only choice, to be strong for your kids.”