Writing in the Red Flag, Ben Hillier, highlights the plight of the Biloela Tamil refugee family who have been detained for over three years in Australia as well thousand of Tamil refugees who face the threat of deportation and torture in Sri Lanka.
Australian government gifting Sri Lanka aerial drones
Hiller’s piece notes the draconian immigration policies adopted by successive Australian governments in response the arrival of Tamil refugees. Between 2009 and 2013, over 4,000 Tamil refugees sought asylum in Australia but in 2012 the Labour government instituted “enhanced screening” to make it more difficult for them to gain protection”. The following Liberal administration, made the situation worse under "Operation Sovereign Borders” with boats being intercepted at sea and asylum seekers handed over to the authorities from which they had fled in the first place.
Sri Lanka’s Former Prime Minister claimed that Australia’s silence on Sri Lanka’s appalling human rights record “was the price it paid to secure co-operation from the former Rajapaksa government on stopping asylum-seeker boats”. This claim was supported by Australia’s former Prime Minister, Tony Abbot who noted:
“I’m sure that the Sri Lankan president was pleased that Australia didn’t join the human rights lobby against the tough but probably unavoidable actions taken to end one of the world’s most vicious civil wars […] Certainly, both countries became even stronger partners in the Abbott government’s most urgent initial task: to end the people-smuggling trade.”
Australia’s continued draconian immigration policy persists despite growing recognition of the threats of torture and abuse that Tamil asylum seekers face when forcibly returned. In landmark court ruling in the UK, the British Upper Tribunal noted that peaceful Tamil activists faced the threat of torture if returned to Sri Lanka, which it defined as an “authoritarian state”.
The Biloela family
Today is Tharnicaa’s fourth birthday. She is the youngest daughter of the Biloela family; a family of Tamil refugee who sought asylum in Australia but have spent over three years in detention. Despite her sister and her being born in Australia, they have spent most of their lives in detention and have suffered significant strain on their mental health. A doctors report had highlighted “behavioural disturbances” resulting from their incarceration and isolation.
Tharnicaa has spent her fourth birthday in the hospital, likely suffering from septicaemia, after being denied medical treatment by the medical authorities at the detention centre. She is separate from her father and sister who remain in detention.
In highlighting the suffering of this family Hiller notes the trauma Tharnicaa’s parents have suffered. Priya, her mother, lost her fiancé twenty years ago when murdered along with six others by Sri Lanka’s security forces. “Hands tied and truck tyres assembled around them, the men were burned alive while local villagers were made to watch”. Priya’s mother was also sexually assaulted in a military camp and her family was threatened. This led Priya to flee originally to India and then to Australia in 2013.
Similarly, Tharnicaa’s Nades, a former member of the Tamil Tigers, fled for his life in 2012, well after the war had ended. Former Tigers have been targets of harassment and torture at the hands of the security forces.
Nades and Priya came to Australia separately by boat in 2012 and 2013 having separate asylum claims. Priya reported seeing her former husband burnt alive and was raped in the civil war, whilst Nades is fearful of returning to Sri Lanka due to his connections to the LTTE.
Despite credible concerns over torture and extra-judicial killings in Sri Lanka, the Department of Home Affairs has repeatedly maintained that the family does not meet the criteria for protected status.
Despite the disregard for the family’s safety from the Australian government, citizens across Australia have held vigils and protests demanding their release. In Melbourne, a vigil was held today calling for their release and tomorrow one will be held in Perth. Australia’s former High Court chief justice, Sir Gerard Brennan, has also issued a statement in support of the family and condemning Australia’s immigration policy as, “unconscionable”, “deliberate cruelty”, and “obnoxious to Australian values”.
Read more Hiller’s full piece here.