Tamils’ torment not over

January 22, 2011
Ten-year-old Brindha’s (pictured) refugee claim was rejected.

Ten-year-old Tamil refugee Brindha faces deportation to Sri Lanka after being rejected by the immigration department, the January 3 Australian said.

In March 2010, she told Green Left Weekly the International Organisation for Migration was treating refugees “like animals”.

At the time, she was onboard the Jaya Lestari, a boat packed with 254 Tamil asylum seekers who had tried to reach Australia for protection from persecution.

She was one of the refugees who became known as the “Merak Tamils”, after they spent five months moored at the Indonesian port, refusing to disembark as they feared for their lives.

The fear was not unfounded. In April, the 254 Tamils were forced by to disembark and taken to the Tanjung Pinang detention centre. Two voluntarily returned to Sri Lanka.

In October, the Refugee Action Collective reported they had been arrested on arrival.

In June, GLW reported that two of the Merak Tamils had drowned at sea, making another desperate attempt to find asylum in Australia.

Brindha and her parents were among the “lucky” ones: the Australian said they arrived at Christmas Island in March.

They were held on the island and later in Darwin’s Asti Motel, which is being used more to lock up refugees as the detention centres exceed capacity.

They spent nine months waiting for the outcome of their application, before hearing the news in the lead-up to Christmas.

The January 12 NT News reported fears for Brindha’s safety if she is sent back to Sri Lanka. Bala Vigneswaran from the Australian Tamil Congress said the media attention given to the family put them in more danger in Sri Lanka.

Brindha became widely known after making a televised plea to the Australian government from on board the Jaya Lestari in 2009.

“Even if they were not real refugees they have now become refugees,” Vigneswaran said. Tamils returned to Sri Lanka face arrest and torture at the hand of authorities. “I believe the little girl can’t go back.”

The family is now at the Inverbrackie detention centre in South Australia. The NT News said they were appealing the immigration department’s decision and would be held until they had exhausted all their legal options.

Meanwhile, four other Tamils face uncertainty after being deemed a “threat to national security” by ASIO, the Australian said on January 12.

The four were among 78 Tamil refugees intercepted and taken onboard the Australian customs vessel the Oceanic Viking in 2009. They, too, staged a protest, refusing to disembark in fear of deportation.

In mid-November 2009 the Australian government offered them quick resettlement if they were found to be refugees.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) found them all to be refugees. But ASIO’s finding means the four, currently on Christmas Island, have no chance of being given an Australian visa.

The Australian said other countries were not likely to accept the UNHCR-recognised refugees in light of the “security assessment”.

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