One night, when I was in Year 11, my parents began frantically phoning and messaging people in the Tamil community. The next night, Channel 10’s The Project showed Priya, Kopika’s mother, being dragged into a plane while Kopika, screaming, was trying to get to her.
That image of Priya will be forever ingrained in Kopica’s mind.
Tharnicca, who was too young to remember what happened, has now experienced a similar traumatic situation, having to say goodbye to her sister and not knowing what would happen next. That will also forever be ingrained into her mind.
Kopika, Tharnicca and I are Eelam Tamils and we have parents who were refugees.
We were also born in Australia. I am an Australian citizen and can live freely, but these two innocent girls, who have never committed a crime, are stateless. Unless anything changes, they will suffer more when they are older.
Kopika and Tharnicca still manage to smile. They are showing how to be compassionate and loving despite what’s happening around them. They are not only the cockatoo for the Biloela community, but they also remind us there is hope.
I have hope that they will be freed and can have an education like I have, so they can fulfill their dreams in this country.
Some, such as former John Howard minister Amanda Vanstone, argued that having kids while being on a temporary visa is wrong. She is trying to protect the home affairs and immigration ministers.
Those people in the Liberal Party and other racist individuals are trying to prevent two brown Australian kids from returning to their home in Biloela.
Priya and Nades had to flee their war-torn island because of the Sri Lankan government’s persecution of Tamils. They fled their own home to seek asylum in a country that signed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the United Nation Refugee Convention.
Do not assume that we only want this family to be free: we want all refugees to be freed.
The Murugappan family has become a symbol for all refugees who have been treated as less than human because of Australia’s border and immigration policies.
The Sri Lankan organisation Society, Peace, Unity and Human Rights in Sri Lanka, SPUR, has said the Biloela family should be sent back to Sri Lanka.
SPUR is sponsored by the Sri Lankan foreign affairs department. It has tried to paint Tamils as “terrorists” and “criminals” — not very different to what the Liberal Party believes.
It has influenced the Liberal Party to believe that Sri Lanka is a safe place for Tamils. It provides information on refugees to the Sri Lankan government, which further endangers Tamils who are sent back to Sri Lanka.
My parents left Sri Lanka in the 1980s and, in 2009, at the height of the civil war, more Tamils were forced to flee. Sri Lanka is still not safe for Tamils.
I can’t believe I’m saying this but [National Party leader] Barnaby Joyce was right: if these two girls were white, they would not be facing this traumatic experience.
The Australian government lacks education if it thinks Tamils can be safely sent back.
Kopika and Tharnicca have become two individuals I look up to. You are both the thangachis [younger sister] I have always wanted and, as your akka [adoptive sister], I can tell you that your name will go down in history for changing the corrupt [refugee] system in Australia.
You are not the only ones facing these cruel immigration laws. There are hundreds of refugees sitting up in detention waiting: you have become the face and voice for them.
Your screams in the video that emerged in The Project have become their voice to stop this treatment.
Your tears in the photo hugging each other are symbolic of the government’s cruelty.
Your smiles have become the symbol for showing that refugees are not a threat.
Thank you Priya for showing how to provide the best for your family. You and Nades are heroes and have shown how we, the Tamil community, can work when striving for justice.
The Murugappan family must be sent back to Biloela where a job and a community are waiting for them.
[Renuga Inpakumar is studying a Bachelor of Law/Arts. She is a member from Tamil Refugee Council. This is her speech to a Sydney rally organised by Mums 4 Refugees, Grandmothers for Refugees, Tamil Refugee Council and Refugee Action Coalition on June 19.]