Obesity and Prejudice: A tale of New Zealand

It’s not often that New Zealand hit the headlines of the newspapers, however as the events of yesterday began to unfold, I began to see what this country could really inflict upon the people who reside there. The headline ‘South African chef ‘too fat’ to live in New Zealand’ immediately caught my eye, and as I began to read, I couldn’t believe what was in front of me….surely not a fascist regime like those I had learnt about in my endless History lectures at University. Whilst one couldn’t compare New Zealand to Mussolini’s Italy or Hitler’s Germany, there is certainly something that can be learnt about a nation which wants to kick out people, specifically immigrants, who are overweight.

So what actually has happened in New Zealand? Well, the story is as follows. In 2007 a South African immigrant called Albert Buitenhuis moved to New Zealand with his wife, yet unlike the majority of the population, this man weighed 160kg upon arrival. Over 5 years later, in May 2013, Albert’s annual work visa was declined on the basis that Albert ‘didn’t have an acceptable standard of health’, leaving the married couple in a situation whereby they will have no other choice than to leave their home, family, and friends, and move elsewhere. Yet why, over five years later when Albert has actually lost 30kg and dropped to 130kg, should the couple now be forced to flee?

This story really saddened me, especially hearing that a country which is technically owned by our Queen Elizabeth II, can commit an act which is really inexcusable. As a person who faced problems with weight during secondary education, I would really like to know if the immigration office has properly examined the case and understand why Albert may be obese. People can be suffering from a variety of really unfortunate circumstances, which ultimately lead them to eat more and put on weight. Whilst in my case it evolved around being bullied, therefore leading to comfort eating, there are a wide range of other causes: depression, anxiety, illness, which all can drive people to eat copious amounts of food. If the immigration office has not fully examined the situation, then they are again in the wrong.

So why is New Zealand so bothered about the obesity problem which encapsulates almost 30% of their adult population? The comment from an immigration spokesman reveals all, ‘It is important that all migrants have an acceptable standard of health to minimise costs and demands on New Zealand’s health service.’ Obesity has been proven to lead to serious illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease, which can ultimately cost a great deal of money to treat, but should New Zealand really be allowed to deport someone who doesn’t necessarily fit their idea of utopia? What would happen if the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) suddenly started refusing to treat people who had complications due to obesity? It can be certain that there would be uproar from the local community: protests, strikes, human rights campaigns, so why should New Zealand be allowed to commit this atrocity unashamed? If the UK and other countries around the world have to tackle the problems of obesity and face it head on, New Zealand certainly can’t escape the problem and simply ‘get rid’ of it by deporting people.

What I would really like to know is this: If the obese person originated from New Zealand, would the situation be different? As a completely legal immigrant, why should the authorities be able to target people like this? There is no excuse.

The fact that Albert has actually lost weight during his five years in New Zealand really sums up the story and adds to the shame that New Zealand should feel. New Zealand’s Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse is acting against the rights of a human being to simply save some money for his government’s national health service, yet does he realise the impact that this decision would have upon Albert and his family? In the shortest possible answer, no, he does not.


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