A candlelight vigil will be held in central Queensland tonight for a Tamil asylum seeker family about to be deported to Sri Lanka after being denied refugee status.
The couple had been living and working in Biloela for about three years and were last week removed from their home at dawn by Australian Border Force officers.
Nadesalingam and Priya and their two Australian born daughters, aged two years and nine months, were taken into custody and remain in a Melbourne detention centre.
Their deportation is understood to be imminent.
But the Biloela community is refusing to give up and have garnered support for the family from across the nation.
Local resident and social worker Angela Fredericks said she counselled Priya after the couple’s arrival in Biloela and is leading the call for them to be allowed to remain in Australia.
She started an online petition which now has more than 55,000 signatures.
Ms Fredericks said Priya is a beautiful person.
“She is just so loving and caring, so considerate of other people,” she said.
“She is all about everyone else, even to the point she’d bring curries up to the hospital for local doctors.”
Ms Fredericks said the couple had fled Sri Lanka because of the persecution of Tamil people and were terrified of being sent back.
“They would prefer to be dead than to go back,” she said.
“That says it all. If death is better than what’s there, I think that speaks volumes.”
She said Nadesalingam and Priya had suffered significant trauma.
“The things that they’ve witnessed are things that no one should have to witness in their life,” she said.
“I don’t know how people function after that and the fact that this couple could actually make a life for themselves is remarkable.”
Community in shock
Ms Fredericks said the community is in shock.
“His work colleagues had no idea why he wasn’t at work. Priya didn’t show up to some of her appointments and nobody knew why,” she said.
“So the fact that it could happen so quietly, and as word has gotten out about how it’s happened, you know neighbours are traumatised.
“The fact our Government would do this to Australians, basically, they have traumatised other Australians in this process.”
“People just want them back.”
The Federal Member for Flynn, Ken O’Dowd, said he was unable to intervene in the Government’s protection process.
“They first appeared in the Refugees Review Tribunal, then went on to the Federal Magistrates Court, the full Federal Court, the High Court of Australia and finally a ministerial intervention,” he said.
“They’ve exhausted all appeal processes by going through those five different tribunals or courts.
“The ministerial intervention was the last hope they had.”
Mr O’Dowd said the couple arrived separately by boat in 2012 and 2013 and therefore don’t qualify for refugee status.
“They were considered boat people and they have to leave Australia,” Mr O’Dowd said.
He said he sympathised with the family and the community but there was nothing he could do to help them.
“I’m afraid my hands have always been tied,” he said.
The Department of Home Affairs and the Minister Peter Dutton’s office yesterday confirmed it was not reviewing the case.
“This family’s case has been comprehensively assessed, over many years, by the Department, various tribunals and courts,” a statement from the Department of Home Affairs said.
“They have consistently been found not to meet Australia’s protection obligations.”
Support from across the nation
The family’s plight has attracted the attention of various humanitarian and social justice groups including the Anglican Church in Gosford, NSW, which yesterday updated its community message board.
The controversial Father Rod Bower has come out in support of the Hindu family, encouraging people to “give up giving up” this lent.
“This little town of Biloela in Queensland may well be our version of Rosa Parks in the fight against inhumane treatment of asylum seekers,” Fr Rod posted.
The Tamil Refugee Council which has been advocating for the family have declined to comment further on advice from lawyers.
Simon Bruck, a senior solicitor with the Refugee Advice Casework Service, said the family was reportedly without legal representation through their application and appeals process.
“The Government cut almost all the funding for refugee legal centres in 2014 and that meant that people had to represent themselves in this tough system to apply for protection and if there was an appeal to the Immigration Assessment Authority,” he said.
“The authority unfairly expects them to make written legal submissions under five pages, in English, even when a person is not fluent.
“This family may have had every reason to be scared of persecution but if they didn’t get expert legal advice at the right time to understand the law and to help them present their claims, then they’ve gone through this process which is complex and ultimately unfair,” he said.
Mr Bruck says the family has only recently secured legal representation and it is not through RACS.
Tonight’s vigil will be held at Lions Park in Biloela from 5.30pm.
Ms Fredericks said the Government should “step back from the policies and look at the stories”.
“Let this family come home. Let them come home to Biloela,” she said.
“We want them, we need them, we love them. Bring them home.”
“We are talking about people’s lives here and we are ultimately giving these people a death sentence.”
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