Nimalakaran Sinnakkili, a former refugee, gave the following speech to a vigil on March 11. Sinnakkili is now the director of the Australian Tamil Congress Western Australia chapter.
The vigil, organised by local Tamil community organisations and supported by the Refugee Rights Action Network WA, called for permanent protection for the remaining refugees and asylum seekers living in the community and those imprisoned in detention centres in Australia and on Nauru.
It also highlighted the plight of refugees who are no longer able to escape persecution, or who are trapped in Malaysia and Indonesia as a result of Australia’s turn-back policy.
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My name is Nimalakaran Sinnakkili — most of you may know me as Nimal. Yesterday evening after finishing work in Exmouth, 1300 kilometres from where we are now, I flew to Perth just to attend this protest, because I know how important this is to our friends and families in WA and around Australia.
I was born in Tamil Eelam. I don’t want to tell all my story as it may fill your eyes with tears. But I will very briefly explain my journey to Australia.
In October 2009, I departed Malaysia on a small boat with 253 fellow Tamils — we were trying to reach Australia. However, we were intercepted by the Indonesian navy on the request of Kevin Rudd, the then-Prime Minister of Australia. We were surrounded by the Indonesian navy which demanded we board its vessels in order to be taken into detention as we were illegal sailors according to the Indonesian officials.
We refused and protested that we were Australia-bound asylum seekers and that we didn’t want to go to Indonesia. After a long fight we were towed by the navy to the port of Merak in Banten, Indonesia.
Still we refused to leave the boat until we had talked to an Australian government representative to get an assurance of our resettlement in Australia.
That standoff lasted for more than six months. Finally, we were exhausted and forced into a detention centre in Indonesia for more than a year while our claim for refugee status was assessed.
All of us were found to be refugees and released into community detention in Medan, North Sumatra.
It took me four and a half years to attain my resettlement here in Australia. I’m now here as a proud Australian and I continue to stand up for refugee rights.
The reason I touched on my story is to give my thanks to people like you all gathered here today and to speak out for asylum seekers in our community left behind with no hope for their future.
Dear Prime Minister and Minister for Immigration, our community in WA needs your help for permanent residency for those asylum seekers who took dangerous journeys to come to Australia because of their circumstances back in their countries.
They have been in our community for years and have worked, paid taxes and lived the way Australians live.
Ripping them out of our community is unfair. The Liberal government was defeated, and many people realised how unjust their policies were. They didn’t respect the feelings and pain of those left behind.
We trust and expect your policies to be fair towards all people who live in this beautiful country and build their families here. They are all skilled hard-working people, like other Australians. They are not a burden for this country, but an asset. Australia needs such people and we need more people in our community to grow.
We are thankful for the good news about those 19,000 people that now have more security and certainty, but that’s not enough.
We need all of them who came to seek asylum to be given permanent residency on humanitarian grounds, including those that have been denied asylum. Furthermore, there are still Australia-bound refugees in offshore detention centres and [United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] accepted refugees in Indonesia — they need a future too.
There has been a decades-long unresolved conflict in Sri Lanka. Although the armed struggle ended in 2009, the situation is still not safe for Tamils.
In recent years this has been compounded by a severe economic crisis. We need the Australian government to give all asylum seekers fleeing Sri Lanka a chance to live with us here.
We loudly demand of the government: “Free, free, free the refugees.”