Tamil refugee finally released into community detention after being locked up for 12 years

November 26, 2021
Sivaguru 'Rajan' Navanitharasa with Tamil Refugee Council member Renuga Inpakumar Photo: TRC/Facebook
Sivaguru 'Rajan' Navanitharasa with Tamil Refugee Council member Renuga Inpakumar Photo: TRC/Facebook

Sivaguru “Rajan” Navanitharasa, who endured one of the longest periods inside Australia’s detention centres, was finally released into community detention on November 25.

Rajan’s friend Ajanthan, who regularly visited him while he was imprisoned, told Green Left, “it's a sign of hope for a person who was in darkness for 12 years.”

Noting Rajan’s family was “happy about the news”, Ajanthan added that Rajan’s “mum sadly passed away while he was in detention.”

There has been a longstanding campaign to free Rajan. Activists have been calling for his release on medical and humanitarian grounds, often holding vigils outside the Northern Hospital, where he was treated after being diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukaemia in 2019. 

Due to his traumatic experiences in Sri Lanka and imprisonment here, Rajan also suffers from depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. 

As a stateless Tamil trying to escape genocidal violence, Rajan fled Sri Lanka in 2008 before spending a year in Malaysia with no rights. After arriving in Australia by boat, he was detained on Christmas Island before being moved to Sydney’s Villawood detention centre and then Melbourne Immigration Transit Accommodation (MITA), in Broadmeadows. 

Like many refugees being indefinitely held in detention, Rajan remained imprisoned for cruel and arbitrary reasons. In 2010, he was recognised as a refugee by immigration authorities but remained detained on "security" grounds due to a negative ASIO security assessment. This was overruled in 2016 when it was acknowledged that he had never represented a threat to anyone.

Following this ruling, Rajan was made to apply for a new protection visa, which was subsequently rejected. Since then, he has been fighting to have his case reviewed.

Though Rajan has been released, many injustices remain in place for people in community detention. Ajanthan said Rajan’s release into community detention was just the "first step” and that “there is a long way to go”.

While community detention is preferable to being confined inside a detention centre under constant surveillance, it is still detention. Refugees are required to report to authorities on a regular basis and have no study or work rights.

The Tamil Refugee Council (TRC) is calling on the federal government to grant Rajan permanent protection. TRC spokesperson Aran Mylvaganam said they “welcome” immigration minister Alex Hawke’s decision to release Rajan into the community, but noted that “he still has not been granted permanent protection.”

“He should be feeling safe after being released, but Rajan’s future remains unclear. He could face any number of challenges without the security of permanent protection, including being deported to Sri Lanka, where Tamils are targeted by the Sri Lankan government,” Mylvaganam said.

Earlier this year, the Australian government co-sponsored a resolution at the UN Human Rights Council regarding the “deteriorating human rights situation” in Sri Lanka due to “increased marginalisation of persons belonging to the Tamil and Muslim communities ... arbitrary detentions, alleged torture and other cruel, inhuman degrading treatment, inhuman degrading treatment or punishment, and sexual and gender-based violence”.

Refugee activists have pledged to continue campaigning for permanent protection for all refugees and asylum seekers.

Ajanthan thanked everyone who supported Rajan and urged people to “continue to be in solidarity with him and other refugees in the same situation.”

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