Race to get asylum seeker and cancer patient Christine Aquino home

By staff writer

The 39-year-old is dying of cancer and wants to return to the Philippines, but there has been an immigration hold up

By staff writer |

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Christine Aquino is stuck in limbo and dying of cancer.

A terminally ill asylum seeker with days to live could die alone in Hong Kong as she waits to be transported back to her home country. Christine Aquino, 39, from the Philippines, has waited for the Immigration Department to deport her since she withdrew her asylum bid on June 3.

Her doctors said on Monday she had “around one week” to live after her cervical cancer spread to other organs. A frail-looking Aquino told the Post from her hospital bed: “I just want to go home.”

Father John Wotherspoon, Aquino’s guardian, said: “This is not the first time immigration has been slow to process an urgent case. There is a need for them to improve their procedures.”

After diagnosis in early 2015, Aquino served 10 months in jail for drug possession, during which her condition got worse. She was released in March, but her criminal record meant she had to be deported.

By Monday, officials had not given permission for Aquino to return home. A deportation order was issued on Tuesday, and she is expected to leave Hong Kong today. The Immigration Department said it received Aquino’s claim withdrawal on June 3.

But officers said they lost contact afterwards and “had been trying very hard to locate” her to process her deportation. They only found her from June 23 after the Philippines consulate told them where she was.

A spokeswoman said the department “all along kept close contact with the local consulate to arrange Aquino’s return as soon as possible.” If she was healthy enough, Aquino will return to the Philippines on July 15.

The Philippines consulate said arrangements had been made for Aquino to get medical and welfare support upon landing in Manila.

On June 29, the consulate wrote to the Immigration Department. Officials “responded immediately saying that the repatriation of Ms Aquino was already being processed”, said Bernardita Catalla, the Philippines’ top diplomat in Hong Kong. She said the department “told us that she can travel any time now.

“It’s about getting medical clearance at the moment.”

Doctors said travelling could be fatal if Aquino’s condition got worse while flying.

Human rights lawyer Mark Daly said of the asylum claim withdrawal process: “We think it is an area that can be improved and have known of cases in detention held up from return or removal for administrative reasons – which is highly inappropriate.”