Petition supporting Tamil family delivered to Immigration Minister

The family, who have been in an immigration detention centre in Melbourne for 14 months, face imminent deportation after the High Court denied their final bid to stay.

Supporters in Sydney May 17

Supporters of the Tamil family in Sydney on Friday. Source: SBS News

The town of Biloela might be more than 1300 kilometres from Sydney but that hasn't stopped Angela Fredericks from travelling to Sydney to deliver a petition with more than 190,000 signatories to the federal Immigration Minister David Coleman.

Ms Fredericks is one of a number Biloela residents who travelled to Sydney in support of a Sri Lankan family facing deportation after the High Court on Tuesday denied their final bid to stay.

Nadesalingam, Priya and their two daughters have been in immigration detention in Victoria since March last year and had launched a case to avoid deportation back to Sri Lanka, where they claim they'll face persecution.

Ms Fredericks said the family is well respected in the community.

"Nades was a hard worker he was always up bright and early out to the meat works where he worked. The family Priya, she loved to get her kids out. So they would come along to play group, mainly to music and singing, always at the park. Every afternoon Priya would take the walk down to the park. “

Ms Fredericks said the family enjoyed being within the community.

Biloela Resident Angela Fredericks
Source: SBS News

“They were just our friends. They are our friends and Priya did all the little things, having people around for curries, taking curries along to the doctors who helped her. She is just that giver.”

The couple, who had come to Australia separately by boat without visas, didn't qualify for refugee status despite numerous appeals.

Those supporting the family say they would face persecution in Sri Lanka due to their links to the banned militant group Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.

The group waged an insurgency against the Sri Lankan government for 26 years before being defeated in 2009.

Former Socceroo Craig Foster has also called for the Tamil asylum-seeker family to stay in Australia.

Mr Foster campaigned heavily to free refugee footballer Hakeem al-Araibi from a Thai prison, and was on hand in Sydney to present the petition to the Immigration Minister. 

"To see an entire town in Queensland come out in support of a family, let alone a refugee family, is really something that Australia should be very proud of. I say to people in Biloela, well done.”

The Callide Mine about 15 kilometres from Biloela is one of the town's biggest employers, with many locals preferring to work there.

Employment in the mine makes it hard for Biloela to attract people to work in the town's agricultural sector.

Residents say migrants and refugees fill in gaps in the labour market with many like Nadesalingam working at the local abattoir.

Biloela resident Margot Plant also travelled to Sydney to show her support. She said she considers herself a grandmother figure to the girls. "I am privileged to be named the girls' Australian grandmother. I've known the family since they moved to Biloela and became very close with Priya. I've been there since Kapika was eight months old and when Tharunicaa was born I held her in my arms when she was just a couple of days old.”Another Biloela resident Allan Fredericks said the family were not a burden on tax payers. “They're just real Australians, they're true blue. They're hard workers, they pay their taxes. They have not asked anything from the government except to stay here safe from Sri Lanka.”

The Sri Lankan Consul General to Australia, Lal Raj Wickrematunga, has told SBS News it was "safe" for the family to return.

"As far as the Sri Lankan government is concerned, Sri Lanka is safe for Tamil families to return.

"The government has made an appeal for all those who’ve left Sri Lanka and sought refugee status elsewhere to come back."

Labor leader Bill Shorten has vowed to reopen the case if he wins Saturday's election, saying community sentiment matters.

A spokesperson from the Australian Border Force said the family’s case has been assessed, over many years, by the Department and various merits review bodies and these decisions have also been the subject of judicial review applications in the courts.

Published 17 May 2019 at 5:44pm, updated 17 May 2019 at 6:04pm
By Peggy Giakoumelos