The public reaction to the removal and detention of an asylum seeker family shows that the Government’s immigration policy is out of touch with the community, according to Tamil Refugee Council (TRC) spokesman.
The family is in limbo after it was flown to Perth and scheduled to fly back to Sri Lanka on the 12th of March, before a late injunction prevented their deportation.
“The Australian government claims that regional Australia supports its immigration policy, but the regional town of Bileola is outraged,” says Aran Mylvaganam.
Mylvaganam, who is based in Melbourne, arrived in Australia as an orphan refugee in 1997 and founded the TRC in 2011 to assist other vulnerable Tamil refugees and asylum seekers.
“We are encouraged by the support the family has received from a small town in regional Queensland, which is a mainly conservative area,” he says.
He says the significant backlash the Government has received throughout Australia shows that it is “not listening to the community” when it comes to immigration policy.
“Every time we deal with cases like this and there are so many rejections to applications for asylum, it can be hard to be optimistic, but it’s heartening when people get behind us,” Mylvaganam said.
Treasurer of the Deakin University Liberal Club, James Bell, says he is not surprised by Biloela’s reaction to the raid and detention of the family.
He agrees that people living in remote areas often get little exposure to people from different cultural backgrounds and “can sometimes be set in their ways.”
“In that sense it might seem a bit unusual, but I don’t think it’s that unusual when you think about what Australians are like in general,” Bell said.
“Australians are pretty multicultural people and pretty welcoming to other cultures,” according to Bell.
Mylvaganam says he is horrified by the Government’s actions not only as a refugee rights advocate, but as a father.
He says that Dharuniga (9 months old) and Kopiga (2 years old) were not allowed to sit with their mother, Priya, while they were driven to the airport and their father, Nadesalingam, was taken there separately.
“As a young father, I know what it means to separate my daughter from me. I can’t believe they would do that,” he said.
“The children are disoriented and crying all the time in the detention centre and the detention officers only let them play outside for half an hour,” according to Mylvaganam.
The Australian Border Force declined to comment on the story, but a spokesperson for the Department of Home Affairs released a statement saying that the family have “been comprehensively assessed by the department, various tribunals and courts and have consistently been found not to meet Australia’s protection obligations.”
“Those unwilling to depart voluntarily will be subject to detention and removal from Australia,” according to their spokesperson.
“All detention and removal operations are carried out in a way that ensures the safety and security of detainees. Appropriate consideration is given to the needs of any children involved,” they said.
Mylvaganam feels that many refugees and asylum seekers like Nadesalingam and Priya, who arrived by boat in 2012 and 2013, are inadequately assessed under the Government’s “enhanced refugee screening process”.
He says their claims are usually processed on the basis of a “15 minute initial statement when they get off the boat.”
Bell echoes this, arguing that the case highlights the weaknesses of Australian immigration law and policy in processing asylum seekers’ claims.
“These are the human consequences of the rigid application of the law, which is exactly what migration law is concerned with and it’s quite difficult to come up with a legal framework that takes the human impact of these cases into account,” Bell says.
“They’ve been in Australia, created a life here and been widely accepted in the community. It seems that although it’s not directly related to their asylum application, it’s still such an important human factor that needs to be considered,” he says.
For Bell, this case highlights the need to change the law and “put greater weight on the fact that people have been here for such a long time and assimilated into the country.”
“You can’t just rigidly apply policy, you can’t just refuse someone’s asylum status because he doesn’t quite meet the legal criteria,” according to Bell.
Although he feels immigration policy needs a significant overhaul, Bell says allowing the family to stay would raise other complex legal and moral issues.
“I would say yes, they should stay. But it’s so much more complex than that, you can’t just say they deserve to stay because then you’re inherently treating everyone differently in the eyes of the law if you do that,” he says.
“Based upon applying the law, the father isn’t supposed to be here,” says Bell.
He says “the amount of publicity this has received weighs pretty heavily upon executive decision-makers and there’s a huge amount of public pressure on them.”
“It’s not fair if one person doesn’t receive the same attention and then there’s a particularly poignant case and the facts are particularly emotional and because of the amount of reporting it receives, this person is treated differently,” says Bell.
Meanwhile, Biloela resident Angela Fredericks’ petition to stop the deportation has over 100,000 signatures and counting.