by N. Malathy, March 16, 2020
We are ONE but We are Many
From all the Lands on Earth We come
We’ll share a dream and sing in one Voice
I am, You are, WE are Australians
A verse by a supporter of the Biloela family.
Nades and Priya arrived by boats in Australia seeking asylum at different times in 2012 and 2013. They met in Australia, married and had two children Kopikaa and Tharunicaa. Their asylum claims, however, were rejected. Priya says her one and only interview was over telephone with n interpreter. The telephone line was unclear and broke down during the interview resulting in omission of information. Neverthless, the official accepted her family’s links with the LTTE, that her mother had been raped by the Sri Lankan Army, that her fiancé had be killed by the Sri Lankan army (‘necklacked’), however rejected her claim on the basis that she was able to leave the country through the airport therefore would not be a person of interest to the Sri Lankan government. Similarly they said Nades’ links to the LTTE could not place him at risk because he had travelled in and out of Sri Lanka to the Middle East during the ceasefire period. The family has by now well settled in Biloela, in the countryside in Brisbane.
Two years ago, the day after Priya’s bridging visa expired, Australian border force officers and police stormed their home in Biloela early one morning. They were given ten minutes to gather their things and were flown to Melbourne. Few days later they were put on a plane and about to be sent back to Sri Lanka. However, refugee activists managed to get a court to stop their deportation on the basis they could still appeal the refugee decision. Nonetheless the government has continued to fight in the courts, so the family has had to fight two other deportation attempts, which the courts have also prevented. Presently they with the two very young children are detained in the Christmas Island detention center as the lone family with no other people than their guards. They are awaiting trial to hear the asylum case of their youngest child born in Australia.
The case of this family symbolizes what Eelam Tamils face around the world and in their homeland. When Priya was a child her older brother joined the LTTE. The family was subjected to constant harassment during round ups because of this. The military targeted the family at nights, sometimes taking away the mother or the father. Priya’s mother had sustained injuries and father lost sight in one eye, both due to army beating. Her mother was raped and unimaginable things were done to her. When Priya was older, the young man who was to marry Priya was burnt alive. Later Priya suffered injuries in her waist and shoulder requiring stitches when her home was attacked by aerial bombing.
It will be hard to find a person of Eelam Tamil origin presently aged between 20-90 years old who had not been touched by the Sri Lankan state violence against Eelam Tamils. This state enacted a series of nationwide pogroms from 1958 until 1983 that lead to the armed struggle. This group of people at one time or another have been exposed to Sri Lankan military abuse at the minimum at checkpoints and at its worst in extreme torture, disappearance and extrajudicial killing.
Like many other people at the receiving end of state violence, Eelam Tamils are known in many countries around the world as asylum seekers. Sadly, many of these asylum seekers face other forms of violence in these countries where they seek asylum. From India to Europe to Canada to Australia, cruel stories of Eelam Tamil asylum seekers constantly emerge. Asylum seekers who are held in detention in these host countries have gone on hunger strikes, have committed suicide and have even been raped in some countries. There are cases where they have been sent back to Sri Lanka to be tortured. With this kind of background experience, for the 20-90 years old Eelam Tamils, the case of the Biloela Tamil family in Australia is one among the thousands, if not hundreds of thousands.
What is different about this family’s story is that they are embraced by the locals in Biloela where they are well known, long before the drama of evicting them was staged. You can read about their story here. Through the efforts of some in the Biloela community, the story of the Biloela Tamil family has caught the imagination of the Australian public and has received extensive media coverage, comments from Australian opposition politicians and even a request from the UN Human Rights Council. A lot of this can be gleaned by searching for ‘Biloela Tamil family’ in YouTube.
The case has become a focus point for protests against the Australian fast track policy of assessing boat refugees. The policy has been described as “arguably flawed”, “separate and inferior” and “focuses on the efficiency of processing, rather than the accuracy and fairness of decision-making”.
For the kind hearted people of Australia this heart wrenching story of a hardworking family is a cause that must be fought for and they do. As noted at the start, for the Eelam Tamils, the Biloela family’s case is one of hundreds of thousands and thus their emotions are drained. They are not moved by this one case alone.
Symbols are an important part of struggles because they gather people together. Australian Eelam Tamils should adopt the Biloela family as a symbol of the plight of Eelam Tamil asylum seekers, especially because it is receiving the attention which many others have not. By implication this is also the plight of Eelam Tamils in their homeland. Therefore, support for this case is support for Eelam Tamils.