By Victoria Pengilley
A family of Tamil asylum seekers due to be deported overnight have been granted an interim injunction to prevent their transportation back to Sri Lanka, their lawyer has told the ABC.
The family of four were removed from immigration detention last night and placed on a plane which departed Melbourne Airport about 11:00pm.
The plane landed shortly before 3:00am in Darwin, where the family — Nadesalingam and Priya and their two children — are being held at a hotel.
The injunction states the Minister for Immigration, David Coleman, is restrained from removing the family of four from Australia until 12:00pm today.
The injunction was granted over the phone by a judge, and a hearing has been listed for 10:00am today before Judge Heather Riley in the Federal Circuit Court of Australia in Melbourne.
Reacting to the developments, Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton said the family had been found not to be owed protection.
Nades and Priya arrived in Australia separately by boat in 2012 and 2013 and married and had two daughters in Australia, four-year-old Kopika and two-year-old Tharunicaa.
The family had been living at Biloela in Central Queensland for about three years before being placed in detention in Melbourne in March 2018 when Priya’s bridging visa expired.
Mr Dutton told Channel Nine the courts “all the way to the High Court” had found the family were not to owed protection.
“They’ve been told before they had children that were never going to settle here,” he said.
“No court or tribunal has ever said ‘oh look, there might be an opportunity for you to stay. You may be eligible’.
“Nobody has ever said that. Nobody has held out false hope.”
Deputy Labor leader Richard Marles said the Minister had discretion to allow the family to stay.
“The Minister has a discretion here, which can be used,” he said.
“The community in Biloela has clearly made it evident as to how they would like to see this discretion used.
“Two daughters were born here — they know no other country but Australia.”
The family’s lawyer, Carina Ford said she had received notice that they were to be removed about 8:00pm last night.
She said her team filed an application relating to the family’s youngest child in response.
“The main argument that we have been trying to run is that whilst, yes, the majority of the family have had their claims assessed, the youngest child hasn’t,” she told ABC News Breakfast.
“We’re looking to try to get the Minister to consider lifting the bar to allow the youngest child’s claims to be considered under the refugee convention.”
She said the outpouring of community goodwill for the family could be relevant if the Minister were to consider the case.
“Those types of factors can be taken into account by the Minister, because he’s not bound by just following the legal criteria,” she said.
“But at the minute we haven’t been able to get in front of the Minister because a delegate determined it wasn’t the type of case the Minister would consider.”
‘Terribly traumatic’ for family
The Tamil family have told friends they were taken from a Melbourne immigration detention centre by Border Force officers and separated from their two Australian-born daughters.
Their last bid to have their case reviewed was rejected in May by the High Court.
Last week, the Government blocked an application for an assessment of the dangers that their toddler, Tharunicca, faces if she is sent to Sri Lanka.
A friend of the Sri Lankan family says the move to deport them came suddenly last night.
“I [got] a video call and their whole unit is surrounded by about 20 guards, Priya was just sitting in a chair and [border force guards] were telling them they were being deported tonight,” said Simone Cameron, a former resident of Bioela who taught Nades English.
Ms Cameron said she had been in contact with Priya during Thursday night’s ordeal.
“Priya reports that some of the guards have been rough and aggressive with her, that she can’t feel one of her shoulders,” Ms Cameron said.
“She asked for the chance to go and change her clothes and they refused her that.
“She was put into one van and the girls were put into a different van.
“That was terribly traumatic for them because they don’t know what’s happening.
“These people have a history of trauma that some of us just don’t really understand.”
‘Low blow by our government’
Angela Fredericks, a Biloela resident and friend of the family said they were given very little notice before being driven to Melbourne Airport.
“They were literally handed the deportation document as they were surrounded [by Border Force guards],” said Angela Fredericks, a family friend and resident of Biloela.”It’s a complete low blow by our government.”
Tamil Refugee Council spokesperson Aran Mylvaganam said two protesters were arrested by the Australian Federal Police for crossing a fence when the family was being loaded onto the plane at Melbourne Airport.
“We chanted, we tried many different ways to stop the deportation, and two of our supporters managed to cut through the fence and go to the tarmac area, where the family was being held,” he said.
One of the two supporters was on the phone with Mr Mylvaganam as she stood on the tarmac with the family, he said.
“I could hear the children crying as they were trying to drag Priya and Nades onto the plane,” he said.
Fear of persecution in Sri Lanka
The family have been fighting the deportation case on the basis they have a fear of persecution if they return to Sri Lanka because of past family links to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.
That was rejected by authorities and the Federal Court dismissed the assertion their case had not been given adequate consideration.
Biloela residents have rallied around the family, campaigning for their return to the community.
“Priya came to this country after witnessing the death of her fiancé, who was burned alive together with five other men in her village. Nades also fled to Australia fearing for his life,” Mr Mylvaganam said.
He said the attempts to deport the family were devastating for the Tamil refugee community in Australia, saying it would “create more fear”.
“The most feared man, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, who oversaw the murder of tens of thousands of Tamils in 2009, he is the presidential candidate, and he’s expected to win,” Mr Mylvaganam said.
“Tamil lives are in danger in Sri Lanka. The situation is getting worse, and Priya and Nades shouldn’t be sent back to a country [where] they fear for their lives.
“The community loves them. We beg the Australian Government to sent them back to Biloela and let them live a normal life.”
‘They were part of the fabric’
Ms Cameron said the family had become a part of the tight-knit Biloela community.
“They’re just lovely, salt-of-the-earth people,” she said.
“They’ve had such a traumatic life living through a war and they just thought a town like Biloela was the answer to their dreams.”
Ms Fredericks said before being detained, Nades volunteered at St Vincent’s de Paul and worked in the local abattoir.
“They were part of the fabric here,” she said.
“They are just the most down-to-earth, generous, kind, open-hearted people and such an asset to this country.”