Refugee rights campaigners, Tamil activists and trade unionists rallied on 21 February outside the federal court in Melbourne in support of Priya, Nades, Tharunicaa and Kopica, the Tamil refugee family currently held in Australia’s detention centre on Christmas Island. The action was part of a long running campaign to bring the family back to their home in the rural Queensland town of Biloela. They are the only refugees currently being held in the Christmas Island detention centre, at a cost so far of more than $27 million for the government.

Spokesperson for the “Home to Biloela” campaign and friend of the family, Brad Coath, told Red Flag that “[5-year-old] Kopica goes to and from school accompanied by SERCO officers. [2-year-old] Tharunicaa is practically isolated from contact with other children, apart from attending playgroup one day per week.”

Such are the lengths the government is prepared to go to maintain its brutal border regime, and to deliver Tamils back into the hands of the Sri Lankan regime. In 2009, tens of thousands of Tamil civilians in the last days of the Sri Lankan civil war. There is an ongoing military occupation of Tamil areas, and the rape and torture of imprisoned Tamil activists is widespread according to human rights groups.

“The family is very worried about the deportation to Sri Lanka” said Aran Mylvaganam, Tamil Refugee Council founder based in Melbourne, “Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who was in charge of the war in 2009, is now the president of Sri Lanka. He has already declared war on Tamils, declaring 20,000 missing Tamils dead without explanation, and by encouraging military harassment. This new development should be enough for the Australian government to let Priya and Nades stay here.”

The Australian navy operates in tandem with Sri Lankan security forces to prevent Tamil refugees from fleeing this violence and persecution. “The Australian government under the Labor and Liberal parties have maintained a good relationship with the Sri Lankan Government”, says Mylvaganam, “To appease the Sri Lankan Government, they have built a system that is designed to fail Tamil asylum seekers.”

Tamil refugees deserve protection from the atrocities that generations of Tamils have suffered. But for successive governments, maintaining friendly diplomatic relations and trade with the Sri Lankan regime is more important than Tamil lives.  

The campaign to save the family has succeeded in delaying their deportation. In August last year supporters protested outside the airport as the family was transported to Christmas Island, and a court injunction was granted to stay the deportation attempt. The family and their lawyers have since been embroiled in a legal battle, during which time the family have been detained on Christmas Island.

The Government has removed any legal hurdles to the deportations of Priya, Nades and Kopica. But Tharunicaa, the family’s youngest child, has not been assessed for a protection visa. This is the legal basis for the current appeal.

Whatever the outcome in the courts, supporters must be ready to take all necessary action to prevent the family’s deportation. An ongoing struggle to break the back of the brutal border regime and Australia’s support for the Sri Lankan government is also needed so no other family has to suffer like Priya, Nades and their children do every day they are imprisoned.