Protesting Qantas passengers stop refugee transfer

Issue 
Members of the Refugee Action Collective protesting against deportations. Photo: Melbourne Street Medics.

Update: An earlier version of this article reported that asylum seeker Puvaneethan reboarded the plane after protesting passengers had been removed. Reports have now confirmed he is now back in Maribyrnong detention centre in Melbourne.

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Three passengers were removed from a Qantas flight from Melbourne to Darwin this morning after refusing to take their seats in protest against the transfer of an asylum seeker on the same flight.

A 25-year-old Tamil man known as Puvaneethan was being transferred from Maribyrnong detention centre in Melbourne to Darwin. He was distressed about being separated from his family in Melbourne.

Protesters from the Refugee Action Collective gathered outside the detention centre in the early morning on February 2 to try and stop the transfer. They were concerned Puvaneethan could be deported from Darwin and tortured upon his return to Sri Lanka.

Tamils continue to face persecution and ethnic discrimination in Sri Lanka, even after the end of the civil war. A report by Amnesty International in 2012 said Tamils face "arbitrary arrest and detention, torture and other ill treatment."

Despite attempts by protesters to block to road, Puvaneethan was taken from the detention centre at 4am.

Protesters then gathered at Tullamarine airport and handed leaflets to passengers on the same flight urging them to help stop the transfer.

Three passengers who refused to sit and delayed the flight by 45 minutes were removed by police. Puvaneethan was initially removed from the flight, giving protesters hope his transfer would be delayed, but he later reboarded with security guards.

Refugee Action Collective spokesperson Chris Peterson said: "Sri Lankan asylum seekers have been returned to danger via ‘enhanced screening’ before they even make fair claims, and those in the community who are ‘out of process’ and with expired visas are at risk of deportation to possible imprisonment, torture or rape.

"Puvaneethan must be allowed to remain in Melbourne."

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