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Treatment of Tamil family shows the inhumanity of the Morrison Government

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Scott Morrison and Immigration Minister David Coleman refuse to help the Sri Lankan family from Biloela (Image by Dan Jensen)

Despite many Australians campaigning for fairness, the Morrison Government still insists on denying assistance to the Biloela family, writes Meg Devery.

IN EARLY SEPTEMBER, Scott Morrison rejected calls from across the nation to resettle Priya, Nades and their two young daughters back in their hometown of Biloela. Dismissing the “public sentiment” surrounding the issue, the Prime Minister maintained that “If you make the wrong calls on these issues, then you invite tragedy and you invite chaos”.

The tragedy and chaos Mr Morrison is referring to is not the systematic persecution, oppression and threat of violence the family will suffer if they are returned to Sri Lanka. It is not the state-sponsored disappearances and arbitrary detention perpetrated against the Tamil minority by the Sri Lankan Government. It is not the removal of two Australian-born girls under the age of five from their beloved community to the country their parents desperately fled. What Mr Morrison is referring to is the unevidenced influx of boats that will breach Australian waters due to any display of compassion or humanity towards a person who has sought asylum by similar means.

This claim is based on the logic that if you punish, exploit and abuse people who have sought asylum by boat, the trade will stop. Notwithstanding the human rights abuses, the abandonment of vulnerable and defenceless people or the countless lives ruined in the process, it is the most pragmatic approach to immigration policy our Government has to offer.

Priya and Nades were forced to flee for their lives in 2012 and 2013 respectively. Like all of those who have sought protection in Australia by boat, this method of arrival wasn’t a choice, but a reaction to the life-threatening situation they were faced with. Somehow, our leaders feel entitled to criticise the actions of people in such circumstances, which they have never – and will never – have to endure themselves. And now, in spite of the significant risk the family faces if they are deported, our leaders are determined to send them back — the cost of which they will not have to endure themselves either.

Immigration Minister David Coleman ultimately has the power to ensure this family are protected. His decision is not bound by legal criteria, nor does it have to be endorsed by his party and their policies. The only criteria his intervention must meet is that it is “in the national interest”.

These powers have been used before by former Immigration Minister Peter Dutton. He exercised his ministerial discretion in 2015 to grant visas to two au pairs working for families with whom he had personal connections. After their visas were cancelled by immigration officials on the basis that they were believed to be in the country for work, Mr Dutton intervened. His reasoning was listed as “public interest grounds”. 

Thus, it appears the appeasement of those who are powerful and connected is “in the national interest”. But the protection of a hard-working, cherished family whose resettlement is supported by over 250,000 Australians as well as their hometown is not.

Biloela has been behind this family from the beginning. Their campaigning and protesting have brought the case to the attention of the nation. Their unwavering devotion and support of the family through this traumatising experience is a testament to the tremendous compassion of this rural community, which I have been lucky enough to experience first-hand. Growing up in Biloela has not only made me the person I am today but has made me understand the power of empathy and supporting people when they need it most.

Priya, Nades, Kopika and Tharunicaa are not just names or photographs periodically flashed up in the media. They are more than a news story. They are a family who has been forced to escape a dangerous situation to find safety and now face being returned to those same circumstances. All they want is for their daughters to grow up in a protected, loving environment without the atrocities they were forced to flee.

31 October marked the cut-off date of the U.N.’s request for the Government to remove the family from detention on Christmas Island and back to the Australian mainland. The request did not allow the family to resettle back in their hometown. It didn’t guarantee their future in this country. It didn’t promise Kopika and Tharunicaa the safe and happy childhood that all children deserve. But it did show that the world is starting to pay attention — just as all Australians should be.

Australia is a country of privilege and prosperity. We are gifted the rights, freedoms and protections that people like Priya and Nades have been forced to fight for. We have the ability to speak up, hold our leaders accountable and incite change. With this power comes responsibility. A responsibility to use our voices to fight for those who have had theirs taken away.

Raise awareness. Sign the petition. Speak up. No contribution is too small. 

Meg Devery is a high school senior and activist for refugee and asylum seeker rights.

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