Community mobilises against deportation of Tamil family

Aran Mylvaganam at the June 24 protest. Photo: Peter Boyle

More than 100 people attended a rally on June 24 to protest against the impending deportation of a Tamil family.

Nades, Priya and their two children had been living in Biloela, a small town in Queensland, for four years. On March 5 at 5am, their home was surrounded by 40 police and Border Force officers, and they were taken away with only 10 minutes to pack.

Initially they were taken to Perth with the intention of deporting them immediately to Sri Lanka, where they face persecution because of Nades' past links to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. When this was blocked by legal action, they were taken to a detention centre in Melbourne.

On June 21, a judge rejected their appeal against the decision to deport them. On June 22 they were issued with a deportation notice. On June 25, lawyers for the family won an injunction delaying the deportation pending an appeal to the Federal Court.

The rally was organised by the Refugee Action Collective, the Tamil Refugee Council and Home to Bilo, a group of Biloela residents and supporters campaigning for the family’s return.

Speakers at the rally included Simone Cameron from Home to Bilo, who spoke about the support for the family in Biloela and the fear felt by the family when they received the deportation notice. ARAN MYLVAGANAM from The Tamil Refugee Council also spoke. His speech is reproduced below.

* * *

I begin by acknowledging that we stand on the traditional lands of the Wurundjeri people, whose land was stolen from them. I pay my respects to elders past and present.

When I spoke to Nades last week, he described how his 3-year-old daughter is behaving. He is very worried about her mental health.

She is not interested in playing. She wants to go back to Biloela to her friends. She wakes up in the middle of the night and is constantly crying. She tells her father he is lying about their situation.

How could a child imagine that other human beings would treat them like this? Shouldn’t their father protect them from this? What cruel people would create such a situation?

This government is deliberately creating this situation. It wants to send a message to people who flee their countries that they are not welcome here. They will suffer if they come here. The Australian government will make them suffer.

Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton, reiterated this, last week, saying that Australians must guard against compassion towards refugees.

Last week, Judge Kirton delivered her judgement, denying Priya’s appeal to have her asylum claim reheard. It was a very unusual judgement for a judicial review.

Irrelevant to the legal matters at hand, in response to public pressure, the judge had to explain, why it was OK to send the family back into the hands of the government of Sri Lanka. She said it was safe. She wanted to tell the Australian public not to have compassion.

Friends, Tamils are not safe under the government of Sri Lanka.

As many of you might know — as you were part of the fight to stop his deportation — Santharuban, a Tamil refugee, was deported from Australia by force on February 22. After a few days in the country, harassment by Sri Lankan military intelligence started. They visited again and again interviewing his wife, children and other family members. He is now in hiding.

Another Tamil refugee who was deported to Sri Lanka from Australia in 2015 died under mysterious circumstances two weeks ago. There are numerous reports of such happenings.

Last year the UN special rapporteur Ben Emmerson visited Sri Lanka. He concluded that “all of the evidence points to the conclusion that the use of torture has been, and remains today, endemic and routine” by the government forces. He said the Tamil community bears “the brunt of the State’s well-oiled torture apparatus”.

Underlying these abuses is an ideology that says Tamils are not welcome in their own homeland. The Sri Lankan government says the island belongs to the Sinhala Buddhist people and no one else. Slowly but surely the government is destroying the Tamil community’s existence on the island as a group.

That is why 75% of the government's military is stationed in the traditional Tamil homeland of Tamil Eelam in the North East. That is why the Sri Lankan security forces are taking over Tamil land and fisheries and exploiting the resources. That is why the Sri Lankan government is denying Tamils jobs in their homelands and giving them to the Sinhalese community. That is why the Sri Lankan military runs preschools in half of the districts in the Tamil Northern Province.

The Australian government strongly supports this Sri Lankan government, as do other Western states, because it suits their geopolitical interests.

The refugee convention is about allowing people to live their lives with basic dignity. These basic rights that most Australians expect to enjoy: freedom of speech, freedom from fear, freedom from persecution.

The judge delivered her verdict on Thursday. The next day, on Friday night, Priya received the deportation orders for removal scheduled for Monday. This is despite there being a 21-day appeal period.

Filing the deportation notice on Friday night gave Priya and Nades, as little time as possible to fight the deportation. This government not only disrespects the international human rights laws, but it disrespects its own courts.

Last week was also international refugee day and the Australian government had the hubris to proclaim its generous stance about refugees. PM Malcolm Turnbull said its generous refugee policy is based on stopping boats coming to Australia.

However it is not the international law that the Australian government purports to uphold. The law says there is a fundamental right to seek asylum in Australia, and it does not matter how you get here.

He said: “The Australian government decides, representing the Australian people, who comes to Australia.”

But the people of Biloela have shown that the Australian government, is not representing the Australian people. The people of Biloela want Priya, Nades and their children to stay.

The more than 100,000 people who have signed the Change.org petition have shown the Australian government is not representing the Australian people.

The Australian government is deeply corrupt. But it is worried about what the public might do; it is worried we could fundamentally change how things work. That is why they are asking us to guard against “our compassion”. They are scared that their corrupt power will dissolve if we treat each other like fellow human beings.

It tells me they are not as comfortable as they make out. It tells me that if we fight, we can win.

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