Supporters of Biloela Tamil family 'not giving up' after shock election result


Labor's Bill Shorten had said if he won Saturday's election his party would reopen the case of the Biloela Tamil family.

Supporters of a Tamil family facing deportation from Australia have vowed "not to give up" after Saturday's shock Coalition victory.

On the eve of the vote, Labor's Bill Shorten said if elected he would reopen the case of "this precious family", who had been living Queensland town of Biloela.

With the government returned, deportation again seems imminent. But advocates of the family are unmoved.

"This fight is not over," supporter and Biloela resident Angela Fredericks told SBS News on Tuesday.

Tamil asylum seekers Nadesalingnam, wife Priya, and their Australian-born daughters Dharuniga and Kopiga.
Tamil asylum seekers Nadesalingnam, wife Priya, and their Australian-born daughters Dharuniga and Kopiga.

"We're not giving up at all. Pretty much from Sunday, from the outcome, we've been emailing Scott Morrison, we've been emailing [Immigration Minister] David Coleman, we've been phoning their offices."

Nadesalingam, Priya and their two daughters have been in immigration detention since March last year and had launched a case to avoid deportation back to Sri Lanka, where they claim they'll face persecution. Earlier this month, the High Court denied their final bid to remain in the country.

Ms Fredericks said Mr Coleman could still use ministerial powers to let them stay, and this will continue to be the focus of the campaign.

"We'll continue to work with the department to show them that returning this family to Biloela is the best outcome not just for this family but for our community, for rural Australia ... Our plan stays the same."

Ms Fredericks said the matter is urgent as "the department does not have to give notice [for deportation] ... Our biggest fear is that they could be taken today or tomorrow".

Biloela Resident Angela Fredericks
Biloela Resident Angela Fredericks
SBS News

The couple came to Australia separately by boat in 2012 and 2013 following Sri Lanka's civil war, but have been in detention in Melbourne since March 2018 after their bridging visa expired.

Supporters of the family say they would face persecution in their native Sri Lanka because of past family links to the banned Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.

The Tamil Tigers separatist group were proscribed as a terrorist group by 32 countries during their insurgency against the Sri Lankan government. The militants were effectively defeated in 2009, after 26 years of bloody conflict.

'Reopen the matter'

Labor unexpectedly gave the family and its supporters hope just before Saturday's election.

Mr Shorten was asked on Network 10's The Project how a new Labor government would approach the case. He urged the government not to deport the family before election day and vowed to review it.

"This family, as I understand, has exhausted a range of legal appeals. It's right back on the minister's desk ... I'm promising to reopen the matter and I'm promising to give it consideration," he said.


He said if Biloela "wants to keep this precious family in their community, I think that's a good idea, not a bad idea".

Ms Fredericks said on Tuesday that Mr Shorten's last-minute support was proof that "people power" can work.

"It shows that our politicians are there to represent the communities of Australia. The communities are speaking and we are saying we want this family."

On the eve of the election, a number of supporters including former Socceroo Craig Foster presented a 189,000-signature petition calling for the family's release to Mr Coleman's office.

Safe to return?

But last week, Sri Lankan Consul General to Australia Lal Raj Wickrematunga 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."

Protesters outside of the Victorian State Library.
Protesters outside of the Victorian State Library.

The government has maintained the case has been thoroughly assessed.

"This family's case has been assessed, over many years, by the Department, various tribunals and courts … non-citizens who do not hold a valid visa and who have exhausted all outstanding avenues to remain in Australia are expected to depart," a spokesperson for Australian Border Force told SBS News.

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