Champion boxer Regarn Simbwa stranded in Bangkok with visa issues after Olympic bid

Champion boxer Regarn Simbwa stranded in Bangkok with visa issues after Olympic bid
  • PublishedJune 7, 2024

A champion Ugandan boxer who has been living in New South Wales with his Australian partner and son is stranded in Thailand after attempting to qualify for the Olympics.

Regarn Simbwa took a risk to pursue his Olympic ambitions by going to Bangkok to compete in an Olympic qualifying event while waiting for a decision on his application for a partner visa.

“I was really worried taking this risk but this was a once in a lifetime opportunity,” Mr Simbwa said.

The bridging visa he was on while waiting for a partner visa automatically ceased upon leaving the country.

His partner Elizabeth Dunlop, a lecturer at Charles Sturt University’s Wagga campus, said they had hoped the partner visa would be approved before leaving for the competition.

Ms Dunlop said the uncertainty had taken a huge emotional toll on her family.

“The last four months have been very stressful, I’ve lost a lot of weight,” she said.

“Before coming to Thailand was very, very stressful. 

“And I’ve been very upset, it’s impacting on me at work.

“I’m trying to look after a young child and it just creates so much uncertainty and so much extra stress not knowing what’s going to happen.”

A man and a woman hold a baby on a street.
The young family fear being separated indefinitely while they wait for a partner visa to be approved. (Supplied: Elizabeth Dunlop)

Mr Simbwa lost his second round fight at the Bangkok tournament and failed to qualify.

The family was due to fly home on Tuesday. 

Ms Dunlop said she cancelled her flight home to have more time together, but said she must return to work on Monday.

She said she dreaded the prospect of leaving her partner behind with no indication as to when the visa processing would be finished.

“It’s going to be really difficult going home without him, not only will I be caring for our son alone, he won’t have his father, but then also taking on all the other burdens,” she said.

“Paying all the bills, mortgage, childcare, going from a two income family to a single part time income, is just going to put huge financial pressure on.”

Mr Simbwa said he hated the thought of saying goodbye to his partner and their son.

“It is going to be very hard being separated from Elizabeth and not being there for our son,” he said.

“I would like to be their support, care for my family in all possible ways, and be a great dad to Matthew.”

Couple met at church

Mr Simbwa was one of six Ugandan athletes who stayed in Australia after competing in the Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast in 2018, living on various temporary visas while an application for permanent residency was being assessed.

“Back in 2018 I decided to stay in Australia as I was under a lot of pressure to help support my parents and siblings and couldn’t get a decent job in Uganda,” he said.

He met his now fiancee about three years ago at their church in Wagga Wagga.

The couple have a 14-month-old son.

A man, woman and baby in front of a sign promoting the boxing tournament in Bangkok.
Mr Simbwa was hoping to qualify for the Olympics but lost his second round fight. (Supplied: Elizabeth Dunlop)

“My life has changed completely from zero to 100 per cent since meeting Elizabeth,” he said.

“I now have a loving, supportive and caring fiancee, and we have a beautiful son together.”

He had been aiming to represent Australia in boxing at the Paris Olympics after beating the Australian champion in his weight division, but he said his application to secure permanent residency had stalled.

The couple got engaged in April last year shortly after the birth of their son and applied for a partner visa in June last year.

The department advises half of all partner visa applications are processed within six months, but the couple are still waiting.

‘Overwhelming evidence’

While it was risky for Mr Simbwa to leave the country without a visa, Dr Dunlop said when Uganda offered him the chance to potentially go to the Olympics, it was a “once in a lifetime opportunity” they could not pass up.

So the young family went to Bangkok, where the Olympics qualifier for boxing started May 24.

“Based on the advice of the [immigration] lawyer, we decided that it was a risk worth taking … the lawyer was quite confident that [the partner visa] would have come through by now. And it hasn’t,” Ms Dunlop said.

Immigration lawyer Simon Jeans said Mr Simbwa had tried to get permanent residency so his application for citizenship could be fast-tracked under the elite athlete stream so he could box for Australia.

“He’s defeated the Australian champion and the South Pacific champion,” Mr Jeans said. 

“He’s quite literally the best boxer in his division in Australia.”

When that pathway looked unlikely to succeed, Mr Jeans said they opted for a partner visa in June. 

The couple have since been asked for extra information such as photos and evidence of joint finances, which was provided May 9.

Mr Jeans acknowledged the circumstances of Mr Simbwa’s initial stay in Australia after the Commonwealth Games and complications with his original visa application could have caused a delay.

But he said Mr Simbwa clearly met the criteria for a partner visa.

“The legislation requires that someone is in a genuine, ongoing and exclusive partner relationship and there’s overwhelming evidence of that,” he said. 

“So that’s not an issue and yet it seems to be delayed and delayed.”

Call for compassion

Federal member for Riverina, Michael McCormack, who has met Mr Simbwa, raised his visa situation with Immigration Minister Andrew Giles earlier this week.

He urged the minister to show compassion in this case.

“Mr Simbwa is obviously a man of quite some sporting talent and I’ve reached out to the minister to see what he can do in a compassionate, orderly fashion to see if Mr Simbwa can be allowed back in Australia, where his partner and child are from,” Mr McCormack said.

The minister’s office referred questions to the Home Affairs department which did not respond before deadline.

Mr Simbwa said he was not giving up on his dream of one day boxing for Australia.

“I would have preferred so much to compete for Australia as it’s now my home,” he said

“Maybe in [the] future if all things go well, one day I will represent it on an international level making my dream true.”


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