By Ram Khatry
Come January 26 and the Danish parliament will be swarmed by hundreds of angry protesters decrying Denmark’s deportation of a Nepalese student last month. But the people crying foul against the Nordic nation’s increasingly harsh treatment of international students will NOT be his Nepalese compatriots. One hundred percent of the supporters will be Danish citizens, his local well-wishers.
Such is the public resentment caused by the painful story of Shalik Ram Bhattarai, a hardworking father and husband who has been forced to live heartbreakingly away from his wife Rita Bhattarai and a three year old son Sean Bhattarai who continue to live Denmark for now; they have been given until 7 February to get out of the country.
As for himself, Mr Bhattarai was forced to leave Denmark in December and is currently living away from his family somewhere in Europe. The southasia.com.au chose not to disclose his location.
Sean was born in Denmark and has numerous local friends. It is the concerned parents of those little Danish peers who are set to come to Copenhagen in four buses to urge their government to consider Mr Bhattarai’s special case and let him continue his life in Denmark. “They have already booked four buses and they are set to bring my wife and son to the parliament too,” the dejected young man said in an interview with southasia.com.au Thursday night. He claims he has spent in excess of $60,000 to earn a master’s degree in Business Administration (Accounting and Finance); the expulsion would only mean his hard work of the past 7 years will be undone. He also owes money to his ‘buba’, a local Danish gentleman who is a fatherly figure to him and his family, “He helped me with around $15,000 to complete my education and I was supposed to pay it back once I got a proper job. Now how can I pay that money back with such things going on in my life?”
The economics student was asked to leave the country because he exceeded the legal working hours in 2012 and 2013. “I honestly did not know about the work restriction. I told them so and they believed me at the time and I paid the due fine, repented and moved on,” Mr Bhattarai told southasia.com.au.
Mr Bhattarai’s case has become a raging national debate in Denmark with journalists and politicians speaking openly in his favour, he said. National television channels and radio stations reach out to him in exile almost every day with several channels running his story with considerable importance. He says he feels ‘grateful’ for the continued support of the Danish media.
Peter Brixtofte, who has been active in Danish politics since 1970s and was a tax minister from 1992 to 1993, was so moved by the story that he turned up at local radio station in Copenhagen on 19 January to express his discontent on the humanitarian matter. No one invited him for an interview; he was forced by his conscience to speak in favour of the young dad and his family. He even took along Mr Bhattarai’s wife and son to Radio24syv studio where his wife also spoke about the hardship she is facing at the estrangement. And Mr Brixtofte is not the only political leader being forced to express their views on the humanitarian crisis that has befallen the Bhattarai family.
The 28 year old’s lawyer has formally requested the Immigration Appeals Board on 4 January to revoke the decision of the immigration department but the agency usually takes two to six months to review and issue a verdict, it is understood.
“I applied for permanent residency in March 2014 and towards the end of 2014, I got a letter from the police saying I had worked more than 15 hours per week. I told them that it was a mistake and that I did not know at all, and that I stopped immediately after my friends made me aware of such a rule,” he said. Immigration officials told him the intention of the investigation was not to cancel his visa but to just make him pay the fine. “I accepted the fine because it I had made a mistake and look, I did pay the fine with honesty,” Mr Bhattarai said.
However, he received another letter in April 2015 asking him to furnish reasons as to why his visa should not be cancelled for violating the existing Danish laws relating to working hours for foreign nationals. “The letter did not specify that my visa would be cancelled due to the excess work hours. It only said that it may be cancelled,” he remarked. The letter also pointed out that his visa might not be cancelled if he had strong familial relationships in Denmark or if his return to Nepal was not favourable for his welfare which he did through his lawyer.
Mr Bhattarai believes that the change of government in October 2015 further complicated his case in that the authorities re-launched the investigation about his extra working hours. He also believes that the Danish authorities took his case personally in order to deport him. They cancelled his visa all of a sudden despite the fact that the earlier communication did not say it would be cancelled.
He was particularly surprised when a Danish immigration officer said his son was two years and ten months, not three years as his lawyer claimed while arguing in his favour. “It is such a poor argument. All were surprised to hear such a low-level argument. Even former treasurer Peter Brixtofte agrees about that,” he said during the chat over the Internet.
He calls it a discrimination to say that he should go back to Nepal because he spent the first 21 years of his life in Nepal and that rest of his life should be spent there as well. The immigration department has also been harping on the fact that his wife is also a Nepalese. “It should not matter whether my wife is an American or Nepalese or Danish. In my view, that’s a discrimination,” he said.
Mr Bhattarai cited an example to prove the fact that Danish immigration officials have been discriminatory against him and his family. “I have a Chinese friend who also had worked more than 15 hours per week. In fact, she exceeded the legal working hours far more than mine but she got away because she married a Danish citizen,” he said.
Interestingly, the Chinese lady in question herself told Mr Bhattarai that she had worked far more hours than him and that she still got away with it just because she married a local man. It was a case of pure discrimination, she told him. “You will be fine because you have paid the fines already,” she used to assure me.