13 Jan 2020

Support growing for student facing expulsion and deportation over mental health state

10:42 am on 13 January 2020

A situation involving an international student facing expulsion and deportation because of her mental health state is exposing challenges some international students face at New Zealand universities.

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The University of Auckland. Photo: Fuad Tabba, Auckland University, Wikimedia Commons

The young woman, who RNZ has chosen not to name, came to New Zealand in April 2015 at age 16 and is four years into pursuing a five-year double degree in science and health science.

A letter in December notified the student her enrolment was being cut after the University of Auckland discovered she had made a serious attempt to take her own life, which resulted in her visa being cancelled.

The letter said she had withheld from Auckland university staff that she had been dealing with complex issues, despite signing a document which outlined strict enrolment conditions regarding full disclosure of changes to her health.

While in a mental health unit in late October last year she was allegedly raped by another patient and tried to take her life a month later.

She said the rape allegation was under investigation by the police.

She believed the university was informed by the hospital about the "quite serious" suicide attempt that nearly killed her in November.

Correspondence she then received, dated 11 December and signed by University of Auckland's deputy vice-chancellor Adrienne Clelan, said the events had impacted her place as a student.

"It is clear that there has been a change to the state of your mental health ... and you did not promptly inform the International Office as you were required to do under your Enrolment Conditions," the letter read.

"The University has cancelled your Student Agreement for your breach of enrolment conditions, thereby terminating your enrolment."

A Givealittle fundraising campaign has been set up by the student to cover her legal and relocation fees. More than $3700 had been raised by the end of last week.

On the page she wrote:

"I met a man who was a few years older than me ... he took intimate photos and videos of me in the process of this relationship. Subsequently, he threatened to publish the images and videos if I did not continue having sex with him. This continued for a couple of years to the point where I reported it to the Police in August of 2019.

"Upon learning this, he promised to delete all the images in exchange for my withdrawal of the police complaint, which I did. I had not had any experience with a man prior to him, and the experience and the blackmailing led to me developing mental health issues.

"Due to these on-going health issues and episodes, the University of Auckland has been reluctant to enrol me.

"The whole situation has made my life miserable. My mum cries every day and I have thought of ending my life multiple times as I really think there is no solution. I haven't been able to attend classes since semester 2 as bad memories and emotions come back to me whenever I am close to the university grounds. I'm never sure where I will find money to pay for the following week's rent and bills and I keep receiving invoices from lawyers."

Thousands of students have voiced their concerns and shared stories of their own experiences through a page on Facebook, including many international students.

Some thanked the university's law students who had been supporting the student, saying they could relate to the intense pressures of studying abroad. Some expressed fear of not letting their family down.

"Auckland University has a lot of work to do in addressing its students' well-being and right now it is not doing its best to help a student in distress," one international student commented.

"It has no problem taking thousands of dollars in fees from a student who has decided NZ is at the top of her list, but it has failed her at the most critical moments of her life... it needs to actively seek out these students who might not want to seek help due to cultural/religious reasons."

The university released a statement on Friday after media and social media discussion on the termination of a student's enrolment.

"It is very rare for the university to terminate a student's enrolment and this is only ever contemplated in exceptional circumstances such as these. Our overriding motivation is to support students to succeed in their study and life goals," it said.

"The decision to terminate the student's enrolment was not taken lightly. It was based on explicit advice from her own medical team who advised that the student was at high risk if she continued to study in New Zealand."

Where to get help:

Need to Talk? Free call or text 1737 any time to speak to a trained counsellor, for any reason.

Lifeline: 0800 543 354 or text HELP to 4357

Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 / 0508 TAUTOKO (24/7). This is a service for people who may be thinking about suicide, or those who are concerned about family or friends.

Depression Helpline: 0800 111 757 (24/7) or text 4202

Samaritans: 0800 726 666 (24/7)

Youthline: 0800 376 633 (24/7) or free text 234 (8am-12am), or email talk@youthline.co.nz

What's Up: online chat (3pm-10pm) or 0800 WHATSUP / 0800 9428 787 helpline (12pm-10pm weekdays, 3pm-11pm weekends)

Kidsline (ages 5-18): 0800 543 754 (24/7)

Rural Support Trust Helpline: 0800 787 254

Healthline: 0800 611 116

Rainbow Youth: (09) 376 4155

If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.