A West Footscray man accused by the Australian government of marrying his sister has been told her visa case cannot be reviewed despite fresh DNA evidence that scuttles the claim.
Star Weekly reported last year that Australian citizen Daniel Tadese, 49, had been separated from his wife, Genet Abebe, and now-five-year-old son since the then Immigration Department demanded the couple undergo DNA testing while Ms Abebe was pregnant.
Fresh DNA tests prove the couple are not biologically related, but a spokesperson for the Department of Home Affairs said there was no provision for the department to reopen or reverse the decision on an application that had been finally determined.
Mr Tadese has not seen his wife or child for more than two years and has spent more than $20,000 in legal fees fighting the ruling that his marriage is invalid.
“I’m thinking about my son daily. I am longing about them. It is worrying every day and it’s very difficult,” he said.
Experts say the new evidence raises serious questions about the government’s processes for demanding and analysing DNA evidence when assessing visa applications. They have called for the case to be urgently reopened.
Mr Tadese’s son, Natnael, has been granted Australian citizenship by descent, but Ms Abebe’s visa application was struck out in 2014 on the grounds the DNA results allegedly constituted “moderately strong” evidence she and her husband shared the same mother.
The couple vigorously denied the claims and have spent years in a costly legal wrangle with the government to have the decision overturned.
The validity of the decision is now under a cloud in the wake of fresh DNA testing of the family, obtained by Star Weekly, showing the parents are unrelated.
Analysis of the new DNA data by Dr Andrew Veale, a leading genetic scientist specialising in relatedness, confirms they are both Natnael’s parents but share no biological family history.
Dr Veale, a senior lecturer at Auckland’s Unitec Institute of Technology, said the original DNA testing was poorly handled, outdated and deeply flawed.
“The data used in the DNA test used to reject the visa was from microsatellites, an outdated method superseded by single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP),” he said.
“Updated SNP genotyping data for Daniel, Genet and their son, Natnael, shows Daniel and Genet share zero significant chromosomal segments.”
Dr Veale said the latest testing uses 600,000 genetic markers, compared with only 21 in the original test.
He said the latest results call into question Australia’s decision to refuse the visa in the first place.
“In my opinion, the Australian government needs to reopen Daniel’s case, and apologise for the years of distress and heartache caused by their flawed analyses,” he said.
“Imagine being told for years that you had married and had a child with your sister, and being denied a visa because of your incest, when you strongly believe this to not be true”.
Dr Veale said that when he read of the family’s plight last year, “multiple red flags” sprang up.
“I immediately felt that this test was flawed … for humans, using microsatellites for relatedness calculations is really at least 15 years out of date,” he said.
“I have extensive experience using both SNPs and microsatellites to calculate relatedness, and it is really difficult or impossible to accurately calculate proper familial relationships with just 21 microsatellites, as this company had undertaken to do.”
Dr Veale said the report from the now defunct Genetic Technologies Corporation lab was even more alarming in its use of an “African population database” to assert relatedness, given different parts of Africa have very different genetic variation.
“It would be like saying two people with dark hair are probably related – this could be a reasonable guess if almost everyone in the society had blonde hair. However, it would be foolish to say if almost everyone had dark hair.”
People who share a recent ancestor have long segments of shared ancestry, but as you go further back the lengths of these shared segments shrinks, Dr Veale said.
“If you looked at the relatedness among married couples in Australia, you would find a large proportion were more related to each other than these two are.”
Mr Tadese said he and his wife had suffered for years from the stigma of being accused of incest.
“I am missing the best time of a family,” he said. “She’s stressed out because she’s looking after our son. Financially, it’s hard too as I am managing here and trying to sustain them there.”
He has been waiting more than two years for a Federal Circuit Court date to challenge the government’s decision.
Melbourne Ethiopian community leader Haileluel Selassie said the situation was a damning indictment on Australia’s immigration system.
“When Daniel first came and talked to me, I simply read the human toll,” he said.
“He has spent an incredible amount of money and he is depressed. Imagine, he has a son he can’t see. The family is traumatised. It is devastating in many ways.”
A spokesperson for the Department of Home Affairs said a decision by a delegate of the minister to refuse to grant a visa application stood unless it was remitted by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal or by a court.
“Where an application has been refused, it is open to the applicant and sponsor to lodge a new application,” the spokesperson said.
“In this circumstance all information provided with the application would be considered, including any offer to undertake fresh DNA testing in accordance with departmental policy and procedures.”