Tamil detainee speaks out from Christmas Island

Sydney protest for Priya, Nades and their children in February. Photo: Zebedee Parkes

Priya, a Tamil refugee detained on Christmas Island, was the featured speaker at a Zoom “digital rally” organised by the Tamil Refugee Council on May 2.

Until 26 months ago, Priya lived in the Queensland town of Biloela with her husband Nades, also a Tamil refugee from Sri Lanka and their two Australian-born children Kopiga and Tharunicaa. Early one morning, police and Border Force raided their home and attempted to immediately deport them to Sri Lanka.

This was blocked by legal action and the family were taken to the Broadmeadows Detention Centre in Melbourne, and later to Christmas Island.

The federal government has continued to try to deport the family. However legal action, supported by public protest action, has so far prevented this from happening.

Niro Kandasamy spoke about the lack of rights for Tamils in Sri Lanka, including why it would be dangerous to deport the family there. The government has maintained its military occupation, it still uses torture and is still seizing Tamil land.

The police have violently attacked Tamils. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa was in charge of the military when tens of thousands of Tamils were killed. He recently pardoned a soldier who had tortured and murdered eight Tamils.

Priya on the phone from Christmas Island said it will be very dangerous for the family to be sent to Sri Lanka. Rajapaksa was responsible for the deaths of many people, including members of her own family, she said.

She also described conditions in detention and the impact on her two young daughters. The children are growing up in isolation, and have nowhere to play, she said. Priya needs medical assistance but is not getting it. She also expressed concern about the danger of COVID-19, because the detention centre workers are not abiding by social distancing rules. She thanked her legal team, friends, supporters and activists campaigning for the family's freedom. She said that such support keeps her strong.

Other speakers were Vashini, a friend of Priya who went to Christmas Island to visit the family; Oscar Sterner, representing the Refugee Action Collective; Lidia Thorpe, an Aboriginal activist and former Victorian Greens MP; and Ben Hillier, author of Losing Santhia, a book that explains the reasons why many Tamils have fled Sri Lanka.

[The meeting can be watched here.]

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