French couple Damien Pigot and Sandy Mendy outside their 3 Sea Cafe in happier times.
French couple Damien Pigot and Sandy Mendy outside their 3 Sea Cafe in happier times. Scott Powick

DEPORTED: Community reeling as popular French cafe closes

A POPULAR French cafe has closed after one owner was refused re-entry to Australia and the other was told he has just weeks to leave the country.

This is despite being assured by the Federal Government before the May election they would be allowed to stay.

Damien Pigot and Sandy Mendy have lived in Australia for 15 years and owned the popular 3 Sea cafe in Tweed Heads South since 2012.

In August of last year, Mr Pigot was told by The Department of Home Affairs he did not qualify for a new visa.

He applied for ministerial intervention, however was told he did not meet the requirements, which needed him to demonstrate how he provided economic and cultural benefits to the community, along with how long he had lived in Australia.

During his time owning 3 Sea, Mr Pigot has hosted a range of cultural events while also using local ingredients in all of his products.

He has also been in the country for more than a decade.

Getting ready for the Taste of Tweed is  French Chef Damien Pigot from 3 Sea Cafe.
Damien Pigot represented 3 Sea Cafe at the Taste of Tweed festival. Scott Powick

Following outcry from the Tweed community and a petition with more than 17,000 signatures pleading to keep the couple in the country, Mr Pigot received a call from the Department of Home Affairs in October advising he was being placed on an "indefinite" visa until a final decision was made.

Mr Pigot later got in touch with Immigration Minister David Coleman's office who told him "everything would be fine" and to "be patient" while he waited for the outcome of the decision.

But shortly after this year's federal election, Mr Pigot received a letter in the mail advising him it was "not in the public interest" for the minister to intervene, and to organise his departure in three weeks' time.

Mr Pigot, who negotiated to stay until the end of August, told the Tweed Daily News he had been "misled" by the Home Affairs office.

"Before the election they love immigration and foreigners, after the election it doesn't mean anything," he said.

"I've learned not to trust politicians. They're very friendly before the election and after that you're expendable.

"It's very upsetting, but I don't want to keep fighting with them.

"Politicians one day say yes and the next day say no.

"I've been in limbo long enough. I'll move on, I don't want to waste my life."

To make things worse, Mr Pigot's partner Sandy has been refused entry back into Australia after she returned to France for her father's funeral.

"When Sandy went to France to bury her dad, she tried to come back and say goodbye and get organised, but they told her she couldn't come back, so we're trying to get her back on compassionate grounds," Mr Pigot said.

French Chef Damien Pigot who has just today and tomorrow to find out whether they can stay in Australia legally or be deported.
Sandy Mendy has been refused entry back into Australia after attending her father's funeral in France. Scott Powick NEWSCORP

Mr Pigot, who says he spent more than $50,000 on visa applications over the past 15 years, said it was "not a good time" to be an immigrant in the current political climate.

"It's written in the national anthem, for those who come across the seas, we've boundless plains to share - well you either need to change your anthem or your government," he said.

"And it's not just Australia, it's all over the world."

Now, Mr Pigot must sell all of his cafe equipment and prepare for a life outside Australia, despite pleas from community members to keep fighting.

"I've spent most of my adult life in Australia. I'll make another life somewhere else but I still don't know where," he said.

"I'm sorry to the community, but running a business is hard and expensive.

"I feel more free now that I'm not in limbo, I don't have to fight any more."

Federal Richmond MP Justine Elliot said it was up to the Immigration Minister to explain his reasoning to the community.

"It's up to Immigration Minister David Coleman, as the responsible Minister, to decide on these matters and explain how his decisions meet community standards and expectations," she said.

The Department of Immigration has been contacted for comment.