Below is the text of the speech by Tamil refugee and member of the Tamil Refugee Council Lavanya Thavaraja to the Melbourne Palm Sunday refugee rally on March 25.
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I am really happy to see so many people here in support of refugees. This rally is very important for many refugees. This is what gives them hope in the face of danger.
We should do whatever we can to stop the torture refugees are facing in our camps and in our community. Our government’s policy not only affects refugees who are here but also those who are stuck in transit countries.
I was born in a refugee camp in Tamil Nadu in south India. My parents fled the war in Sri Lanka and spent 30 years in India under terrible conditions where we were treated very badly.
As a child born to refugees I was denied education in Indian government schools, denied the right to work and welfare benefits in India.
We were harassed by security agencies. Despite having been born in India I had to report to security agencies every time I wanted to leave the camp. We lived in constant fear of sexual harassment by members of the Q branch [special units] of the Tamil Nadu Police.
Local businessmen exploit people in these camps. They make us do coolie work without consideration to our safety. As a result many men die at a very young age. My father died at the age of 45.
That is why many Tamils not only flee Sri Lanka but Indian refugee camps and other transit countries.
When Australia treats refugees badly, other states in our region follow and treat refugees worse. Our government’s refugee policy is directly and indirectly killing people.
We should acknowledge this fact and bring an end to the camps and welcome refugees.
I first came in contact with Australia’s refugee policy when my childhood friend Leo Seemanpillai self-immolated and died in Geelong in 2014. It was heartbreaking for all of us in the refugee camp to hear that threats of deportation led to Leo’s death.
Successive Australian governments have been deporting Tamils to Sri Lanka. That continues now under [immigration minister] Peter Dutton.
Thousands of Tamils are facing deportation to Sri Lanka. In the past two years more than 1300 Tamils have been denied protection visas and will be deported in the coming months.
Just two weeks ago we saw how in a 5am raid Border Force took a Tamil family in the central Queensland town of Biloela. Priya, Nades and their two children aged 7 months and 2 years were taken to Melbourne. A week later our government handcuffed the parents, separated the children and tried to deport the family. Thanks to the people of Biloela and other refugee advocates we have stopped their deportation.
Now the family, including the two children, face a long time in detention while their appeal is heard. They will have a direction hearing on May 2.
Let us work together for the freedom of Priya and her family. Let us work together so that no more Tamils are deported to Sri Lanka. Let us work together till all refugees are safe.