Darwin, September 2, 2019: Hundreds of people rallied across Australia on September 1 to protest the possible deportation of a Tamil family.
Coalition MPs are at odds over whether a Tamil family should be sent to Sri Lanka. The parents arrived by boat and their daughters were born in Australia.
The Australian government sent Tamil husband and wife Nadesalingam and Priya, and their daughters Kopika, 4, and Tharunicaa, 2, to Christmas Island from Darwin on August 31 after their legal team won a court injunction preventing their deportation until this September 4.
A growing chorus of voices, including Labor and Greens leaders and conservatives such as Alan Jones and Nationals MP Barnaby Joyce, has expressed support for the family.
Federal Greens leader Richard Di Natale said at the Melbourne rally Dutton’s actions were “senseless cruelty”.
“This is cruelty for the sake of being cruel,” he said. “This is a minister in Peter Dutton taking pleasure in the suffering of others, that’s what going on here. It’s barbaric, it’s cruel and it needs to end.”
Federal Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese said he had raised directly with Prime Minister Scott Morrison the need for intervention in the case.
“This would not undermine Australia’s borders, it would simply be the very reason why there is ministerial discretion in the act – to show compassion to show that there are specific needs for this family,” he said.
Nadesalingam and Priya arrived in Australia separately by boat in 2012 and 2013. Their two children were born in Australia.
After living in the central Queensland town of Biloela for years, they were moved to immigration detention in Melbourne last year.
Albanese said detaining the family was not a cabinet decision, but one that Home Affairs Minister Dutton has made alone.
“Minister Dutton has got himself in a circumstance whereby in order to show he is harsh and tough he is showing he has no humanity,” he said.
“The fact the family was moved from Darwin to Christmas Island to get them out of public view is quite extraordinary. What was the cost of that move for the Australian tax payer? This is publicly-funded cruelty,” he said.
In Melbourne, about 400 people gathered outside the State Library, holding banners with slogans like “bring them back” and “seeking asylum is not a sin”.
As speakers recounted the conditions the family suffered in detention, the crowd shouted “Shame!”.
Journalist Rebekah Holt, who has been in contact with the family, said Priya told her to tell protesters: “We’re all alone here” and “I want to thank them, thank you for being here”.
Paul Bolger, carrying his two-year-old son on his shoulders, said: “It’s not a political issue, the reason why I’m here is because it’s a humane thing, a humanity thing. We should take the politics out of it”.
“We’re very privileged here in Australia. If we’re okay to be here and doing what we’re doing, why isn’t it okay for someone else to be doing the same thing we are?”
In between speakers, the crowd held a five-minute silent vigil. In Melbourne and Sydney, crowds sang Twinkle Twinkle Little Star for the family’s two daughters.
In Adelaide, people carried signs with slogans including ‘‘ashamed to be Australian’’.
Shadow Minister for Home Affairs Kristina Keneally said in Sydney it was an opportunity for Mr Morrison to show Christian leadership and reflect upon the teachings of the gospel.
‘‘Open your heart, understand what the gospel tells us as Christians to do,’’ she said.
Refugee Action Collective spokesman Chris Breen said the public sentiment was clear.
“We’re calling on Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Peter Dutton to not ignore this groundswell of support, to not put the family in danger and bring them home safely,” he said.
More than 150 people gathered in the heart of Brisbane to give a strong voice to the Tamil family.
Father Pan Jordan, a Catholic priest with Our Lady of Graces Parish at Carina in Brisbane’s east, said the federal government’s policies were “unjust, inhumane and uncompassionate”.
“I could not believe the Australian government could do this to four innocent people, I find it extremely sad,” he said.
“I was almost crying and on Thursday night, when they [Tamil family] were deported, I could not sleep because I had seen certain pictures they had taken in Melbourne.
“The way they were being handled, I thought, for a woman, they are doing this? Two children are crying, what type of mentality [do] we have? What type of people are we?
“Australians are normally known for their generosity and compassion and fair play, but here, everything is dashed.”
Father Jordan said he had spoken to the family and had kept up to date with the situation via supporters in contact with them.
He believed the family could no longer communicate regularly by phone on Christmas Island and it was difficult for their Melbourne lawyer to talk to them and make decisions about their case.
“I think the reason is that everyone has been touched by this family’s situation, they are all taking it very personally … they want to be there in support and solidarity with this family.”
Lawyers for the family secured a last-minute reprieve early on Friday, with a court injunction forcing the charter flight bound for Sri Lanka to land in Darwin.
The decision was based on the argument the youngest daughter’s case had not been properly assessed by the government.
Dutton has so far refused to budge on his department’s decision to deport them.
The family has had their asylum claims denied despite appeals that went all the way to the High Court. They were detained in March 2018 after Priya’s bridging visa expired.
Tamil Refugee Council spokesman Aran Mylvaganam said on August 31 that Priya was being treated on Christmas Island for injuries she suffered on Thursday night while being forcibly removed from detention in Melbourne onto a plane.
“The children are constantly crying. Kopika is feeling very lonely, and they are the only refugees on Christmas Island at the moment,” he said.
Biloela resident and family friend Jayne Centurion said it was a relief to know the family would remain in Australia until at least Wednesday.
“After that, we just don’t know. I am happy in some ways and incredibly devastated in others,” she said. “I guess we are all putting on a brave face.”