Peter Michael June 05, 2007
PLARM Pongprom has finally won the right to call Australia home after a gruelling battle with immigration authorities spanning more than five years.
YOU beaut . . . Plarm Pongprom celebrates the news of her visa victory with her grandmother Sunan and grandfather Ken Ritchie. Picture: Brian Cassey.
The plucky 15-year-old, who was abandoned by her drug-addicted parents and faced a life of poverty in Thailand, has been granted a permanent visa allowing her to stay in the country with her loving grandparents.
The Mareeba High School student was forced to take her case to the High Court in a bitter fight involving three successive immigration ministers amid allegations of police corruption, sex abuse and child pornography.
Plarm was rescued and brought to Australia on a tourist visa by her grandmother, Sunan, who found the then-nine-year-old, alone and unloved, selling eggs in a street market in central Thailand in December 2001.
Plarm, who plays the flute in the school band, enjoys tennis and speaks with an Aussie accent, has since become the face of Australia's refugee rights movement.
"I'm proud to call myself an Aussie," said the elated teen, who was told yesterday that she had been granted an orphan visa.
"Just thinking what I faced back on the streets in Thailand, no job, no future, no family, the threat of pimps and kidnapping and even prostitution, makes me depressed.
"But now I can stay here with my grandparents, who I love very much, and look forward to a beautiful life."
Federal Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews yesterday told The Courier-Mail he approved her permanent visa using his ministerial discretion on May 23.
"For me it was a question of do we send her back to Thailand having been here for six years, or give her chance to stay in Australia?" Mr Andrews said. "There was considerable support in the community and hopefully I have come to the right decision."
He declined to comment on the judgment of previous immigration ministers, Philip Ruddock and Amanda Vanstone, who refused her a visa.
Plarm's grandfather Ken Ritchie said the result was "absolutely marvellous". But he faces a bid to clear his name after being wrongly accused of child abuse and possessing child pornography during his bid to win asylum for his granddaughter.
Those charges were struck out by Mareeba Magistrate John Lock.
"I will refer the matter and the way the police handled the case to the Crime and Misconduct Commission," Mr Ritchie said. "Up until now I have not wanted to do anything that might upset Plarm's case.
"But right now there is a feeling of great delight and I hope she can start to look forward to a normal life without the constant threat of deportation hanging over her head."