The plight of the beleaguered Tamil family shows, again, the lengths the federal government is prepared to go to, to justify why it cannot accept people seeking asylum.
Keeping people out of Australia under the guise of stopping “people smuggling” and “deaths at sea” is no excuse for government cruelty towards people escaping war, torture, persecution and death.
Regardless of how the federal government spins it, Tamils remain an oppressed minority in Sri Lanka. The current president, Lieutenant Colonel Gotabaya Rajapaksa, presided over a genocidal massacre of Tamils in 2009 when he was defence secretary. There are growing calls for Sri Lanka to be referred to the International Criminal Court over genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.
But people are seeing through the propaganda. The country’s humanity has been on display at numerous protests and vigils and supporters continue to demand the family be returned to Biloela, the town in Queensland where they had made a home.
Significantly, the community is determined to fight for Priya, Nades, Kopika and Tharnicaa’s safe future.
Tharnicaa’s illness, ignored by medical contractors for days on their Christmas Island prison, triggered the latest outpouring of support for the family.
Public pressure forced a small concession from the government — to allow the family to be reunited and held in community detention in Perth — near the airport, not the hospital where Tharnicaa is still receiving treatment. However, public pressure must continue.
The government is, for the moment, sticking to its plan to refuse to allow the family to stay in Australia. It can do this because Labor is in lock-step with the Coalition on cruelty to refugees. Labor’s protests, in this case, are more aimed at wedging the Coalition, than concern for Tamil refugees.
According to the Tamil Refugee Council, Britain’s immigration tribunal found that the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s (DFAT) 2019 country information report on Sri Lanka had minimised the risk of Tamils being tortured. It urged DFAT to retract the report on the basis that its conclusions were unclear, and none of its sources identified.
The Australian Centre for International Justice (ACIJ) said on June 3 that Tamil people seeking asylum in Australia had been refused protection, based on what the British tribunal says is “unreliable information”.
The British court also confirmed that “if returned to Sri Lanka, [asylum seekers] risk being subjected to torture, which the Tribunal says is endemic in the country”, said the ACIJ.
ACIJ Executive Director Rawan Arraf said: “It is staggering that DFAT would assert that torture is no-longer state sponsored in Sri Lanka in the face of overwhelming evidence from independent and verified sources.”
It appears that the British Home Office was also forced to remove its equivalent report in light of the landmark judgment.
Meanwhile, immigration minister Alex Hawke blithely continues to assert: “We do not believe anyone who has come by boat should be allowed to be permanently resettled in Australia … That’s been tested at several elections.”
Unfortunately, Hawke is correct. Whipping up racism and xenophobia against asylum seekers could never have reached the fever pitch it has without both major parties sharing the same policy.
No-one should need reminding that it was Labor that first introduced the policy of mandatory detention and has supported the Coalition’s policy to turn back boats at sea.
Labor is hinting it will abolish Temporary Protection Visas and Safe Haven Enterprise Visas in favour of permanent visa arrangements, if elected to government. It has yet to say what it would do for those trying to come to Australia by boat.
Australia has an obligation to ensure that people seeking safety are not sent back to danger.
The federal government turned a blind eye when tens of thousands of Tamils were being slaughtered in 2009 by the nationalist Sri Lankan regime.
Tamil asylum seekers must be given permanent protection, and the Murugappan family is one of many forced to live in constant fear of deportation.
[Pip Hinman is a member of the Socialist Alliance national executive. For more information, visit socialist-alliance.org]