Australian treatment of refugees has once again come into the spotlight, this time with the Sri Lankan Tamil family of four from Biloela, Queensland as the face of it.
They have escaped deportation temporarily through a last-minute injunction where their matter is once again due before the court for an interlocutory hearing on 18 September 2019.
Priya and Nadesalingam came to Australia as Asylum Seekers, in 2012 and 2013 respectively, by boat, following the civil war in Sri Lanka. Their temporary bridging visa ran out after 4 years in March 2018 which resulted in the Australian Border Force (ABF) officers taking them to the detention centre in Melbourne during a raid at dawn.
The civil war in Sri Lanka between the government forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), also known as the Tamil Tigers, occurred across 26 years before ending in 2009 with the separatist movement of the Tamil Tigers being obliterated by the government forces. While the civil war has officially ended, the treatment of Tamils has not necessarily improved.
Hundreds of Tamil Tigers surrendered to the government at the end of the civil on the premise of humanitarian treatment but were made to board buses and were never seen again. Not to mention, The International Truth and Justice Project in Sri Lanka has received claims of continuing torture of Tamils with 76 Tamils alleging torture and sexual violation during illegal detention between 2015 and 2017. Currently, many Tamils like Tamil activist Ramanathan Shrignaneswaran allege that Tamils in Sri Lanka continue to live in fear in the militarised north where they risk being arrested by the government forces under the farce of terrorism. Moreover, recent political developments in Sri Lanka involving Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, who was fundamental in defeating the Tamil Tigers, being named the opposition’s candidate for the presidential elections sends a frightening signal to Tamils in Sri Lanka.
In the present case, the family is fighting their case on the basis that they will face persecution on their return to Sri Lanka due to their involvement with the LTTE where Nadesalingam claimed that he was forced to join the Tamil Tigers and was hence harassed by the Sri Lankan Forces. Moreover, by leaving the country on boats they had already committed an offence in the eyes of the Sri Lankan Authorities.
The family, who could have been deported on Friday afternoon, will remain in detention until 18 September 2019. The family could remain in detention for months if the matter goes to a full and final hearing after 18 September 2019, for which a date has not yet been set.
However, Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton insists that the Tamil family were not refugees but were rather economic migrants who are not entitled to protection from Australia. Evidence that Nadesalingam travelled between the Middle East and Sri Lanka between 2004 and 2010 for work has been used to support this claim and further, that he was not involved with the LTTE and would not be of concern to the Sri Lankan Authorities. However, Damien Kingsbury, Professor of International Politics in Deakin University stated that this was not an unusual occurrence with Sri Lankans during the civil war.
Moreover, with the 6th recent attempt of a people smuggling boat from Sri Lanka being intercepted by the Australian Border Force Officials, Dutton stated that the threat of Sri Lanka was a concern. Hence, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said that he would not be granting an exception by using his discretion as it would send the wrong signal to those in other countries seeking to enter Australia through boats and it would undermine the strength of Australian borders.
As a result, there has been a large amount of support from the Australian public as seen through the activism in support of the family. While this could have the effect of putting greater pressure on the government to grant them asylum, it could also be counterintuitive. Immigration lawyer, Simon Jeans, who has worked with the last 10 immigration ministers states that the widespread media coverage has the effect of cornering the minister such that if he does grant them a visa, it would encourage more people to make such campaigns in the future.
Nevertheless, the coverage does bring greater light into the plight of refugees in Australia with concerning images of the family being brought to Christmas Island and a video of the Australian born children of the family screaming for their mother as she is pulled away by the ABF being screened.
If you or someone you love are at risk of deportation, seek immediate legal advice. Please do not hesitate to contact Freedman and Gopalan by calling 8917 8700 or by filling out the enquiry box.