More than 100 people attended a rally called by the Tamil Refugee Council on May 15. The rally combined a commemoration of the genocidal massacre of Tamils in Sri Lanka 10 years ago with opposition to the imminent deportation of a Tamil refugee family to Sri Lanka following the rejection of their appeal to the High Court.
In May 2009 tens of thousands of Tamil civilians died when the Sri Lankan army and air force bombarded them during the final weeks of the war between the Sri Lankan government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. The LTTE were fighting for an independent Tamil homeland in the north and east of the island of Sri Lanka, as a response to the history of discrimination, repression and violence against the Tamil people.
Red Flag editor Ben Hillier told the rally the massacre was "a premeditated act of mass extermination". He said the Sri Lankan government had herded civilians into what were termed "no fire zones", then repeatedly shelled these zones.
Hillier said that Tamil areas today are under military occupation. In the Mullaitivu area, where the occupation is most intense, there is a soldier for every two Tamils.
Brad Coath spoke about the plight of the Tamil family, Priya, Nades and their two Australian-born children, who had been living in Biloela, in Queensland. He said they were "loved members of the Biloela community".
The family has been held in immigration detention in Melbourne since last March, when early one morning Australian Border Force took them from their home. This was a traumatic experience for the two young girls who were separated from their parents.
The family has been fighting deportation on the basis they have a fear of persecution if they return to Sri Lanka because of past family links to the LTTE. Previous appeals against their deportation through the refugee tribunal and lower courts had failed before Federal Circuit Court Justice Caroline Kirton rejected an appeal that the initial assessment by the Immigration Assessment Authority, which denied refugee status, had not been properly conducted.
Last week the High Court dismissed their application to review the case. The family has now exhausted all avenues of appeal and supporters of the family fear they could be deported within days.
Coath, who has been visiting the family in Broadmeadows detention centre, said that detention has had a "terrible effect". The children are not eating or sleeping properly. One child has dental problems due to nutrient deficiency.
Coath cited a United Nations report showing that torture is "routine and endemic" in Sri Lanka, and is disproportionately used against Tamils.
Victorian Greens Senate candidate Apsara Sabaratnam said if Labor wins the election, it should recognise the asylum claims of Sri Lankan Tamils. Currently such claims are rejected, because Sri Lanka is said to be safe for returning asylum seekers.
David Feith, a teacher at Monash College, gave some historical background on the Tamil struggle. He cited the 1983 anti-Tamil riots, instigated by politicians, as an example. He said the issues that led to the civil war have not been addressed.
Liam Ward, representing the Refugee Action Collective, spoke of the history of Australian government complicity in the genocide in Sri Lanka. Labor and Liberal politicians have expressed support for the Sri Lankan government and Australia has given military aid, such as patrol boats.
Ward also denounced Australia's treatment of refugees from Sri Lanka, including detention in what he described as "concentration camps". He said that since 2010 there has been a ban on asylum claims from people fleeing Sri Lanka.
He led the crowd in a chant of "No deportations, let them stay".