Poet and painter in Villawood detention centre

Issue 
Painting by Ravi

Iniyan and Ravi (names have been changed to protect their identities) are Tamil asylum seekers currently imprisoned at Villawood detention centre. Both detainees use art to show the oppression of Tamils in their homeland of Sri Lanka.

In May 2009, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam were defeated by the Sri Lankan army. Though the war is ended the persecution of Tamils continues. Iniyan and Ravi fled for their lives as they were being hunted by Sri Lankan government forces and paramilitaries, for suspicion of supporting the LTTE.

Iniyan decided to escape from Sri Lanka after several of his friends were disappeared or killed, and his own life was threatened by the Sri Lankan army. Leaving his parents and sisters, Iniyan departed for Australia by boat. After 30 days voyage the vessel sank — 12 men died but the remaining 27 were rescued.

He has spent 5 months in detention at Christmas Island and 8 months in Villawood. Though he has been granted refugee status, Iniyan remains in detention as he awaits security clearance by ASIO — he has already waited six months.

To bide his time, Iniyan writes poems in the Tamil language. He usually writes of the troubled existence of young Tamils living in Sri Lanka suffering discrimination, war and genocide.

“I want to tell the Australian government that it is my human right to be recognised as a refugee and released from here,” he said.

Ravi made the decision to leave Sri Lanka after one of his employees and a family member were disappeared. He was captured and interrogated in a white van by people claiming to be from the Criminal Investigation Department. These unmarked white vans are used by paramilitaries to kidnap Tamils who are then killed or disappeared. Fortunately Ravi was released, but the “investigators” continued searching for him and he decided it best to leave the country.

He left his wife and daughter to travel to Australia by boat. On the sixth day of voyage it broke down. Six people died from heat stress but Ravi and the other asylum seekers were eventually rescued.

Ravi has spent six and a half months in Christmas Island and eight months at Villawood. His first application for refugee status was rejected and he now waits to see how the government chooses to act following the recent High Court decision to allow asylum seekers the right of appeal in court.

Confined to Villawood detention centre, Ravi found he had the time to indulge in painting. His paintings range from depictions of bombings and warfare in Sri Lanka to tranquil scenes of sailing ships.

Iniya and Ravi find comfort in their art forms as one way of escaping the tortuous boredom and uncertainty that is Australia’s mandatory detention policy. Both men also feel a strong need to tell the world what is happening to the Tamil minority in Sri Lanka. The continuing persecution of Tamils has been largely ignored by the mainstream media since the defeat of the LTTE. But here, languishing in Australia’s detention camps we have at least two people who are using their own creative spirit to raise the concerns of their people who continue to suffer in Sri Lanka.

[Ravi’s paintings are available for sale and the proceeds will go to his family in Sri Lanka. The works can be viewed here. If you are interested in purchasing a painting please contact Chandra on 0430 125 319.]