The Murugappan family is a Tamil family facing deportation under successive Liberal and Labor Governments’ cruel and racist immigration policies. The family was first taken into detention in March 2018, then moved to Christmas Island in August 2019, after a last-minute court injunction blocked their deportation to Sri Lanka. They lost their attempts to gain refugee status in Australia in May 2019 when the High Court refused to let them appeal against a deportation decision. The Federal Court later decided Tharnicaa, the younger daughter, had been denied procedural fairness, prolonging the family’s legal fight with the government. When Tharnicaa became ill with Sepsis, she was evacuated off Christmas Island and brought to Perth, where now she and the whole family have been united, but remain in community detention.
Workers’ Solidarity’s Jiselle Hanna and Pier Moro interviewed Aran Mylvaganam, from the Tamil Refugee Council.
Aran: The Minister announced [on the 23 June] that the family will be granted a three-month bridging visa but that is only for three members of the family; Tharnicaa, the youngest child, is still in community detention which means that the rest of the family are in community detention. The application for a bridging visa for Tharnicaa was denied and so the family continues to be in community detention because of Tharnicaa’s condition and they are still unable to get to Biloela.
This three-month bridging visa, a lot of people in the community get similar types of visas. With the three month visa it is very difficult to go and get a job, even though you have this right, and you wouldn’t be entitled to any Centrelink benefits either. And even if employers give you a job if the Government takes a long time to grant you another bridging visa you have to give up your job and look for another job once you have another bridging visa. So, the family, you know, is still facing uncertainty and that threat of deportation hasn’t gone away. The Minister is still determined to send this family back to Sri Lanka when the so-called options in the courts are exhausted.
Jiselle: I have noticed that the campaign has shifted the conversation now to actually discussing the dangers in returning Tamils to Sri Lanka. What can you say about that?
Aran: Well, the situation in Sri Lanka is bad for Tamils and Priya and Nades, they face danger as well if they get deported back to Sri Lanka and we are hoping that the attention that this family has received helps us raise awareness about the dangers that Tamils face in Sri Lanka.
Recently a UK tribunal found that the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade report that is used to assess Tamil asylum claims is a flawed report. It doesn’t recognise the fact that torture is still practised by the Sri Lankan State and it basically said that this report should not be used to assess Tamil asylum claims.
The Australian Government continues to use this report, this is the report that has denied Priya and Nades Protection Visas and continues to deny other Tamils Protection Visas as well. We want the Australian Government to recognise the current human rights situation in Sri Lanka: and that is that the Rajapaksa Government, who is responsible for the mass murders of Tamils in 2009, is back in power and they are terrorising people in the North and East. There is a military occupation in the Tamil Homeland; for every six Tamils there is an army member present. Just two weeks ago we had a young Tamil boy murdered by police in custody, and land grabbing is continuing. The military is involved in civilian affairs, they are even running primary schools in the North. Life is quite scary for Tamils in the North and East, and we want the Australian Government to recognise it.
So far, over the last ten, twelve years, under Labor and Liberals, Australian Governments have appeased the Sri Lankan rulers down there by giving financial aid, donating Navy ships, and recently Scott Morrison donated drones to stop Tamils from fleeing that island. Rather than aiding genocidal regimes down there we want the Australian Government to recognise the reality for Tamils in Sri Lanka.
“There are hundreds of other refugees in similar situations, hundreds of refugee families in similar situations, who have exhausted all the options. How do we turn this into a win for everyone?”
Pier: You mentioned at the start that Tharnicaa hasn’t been given a bridging visa like the rest of the family so she is still in community detention. I can only guess that this is a planned, thought-out strategy to say that the family has a visa, but one hasn’t so that they will have to remain attached to community detention. I presume that is the reason that has happened.
Aran: Look, we can only assume what they are trying to do. I can’t say anything with certainty. The Legal Team is looking at getting a bridging visa for Tharnicaa and there is lots of work going on behind the scenes. I’m hoping that in the next week or two, this family will get the visa and go back to Biloela to continue the fight.
One thing is very clear, the Government is not going to issue permanent residency to this family unless they feel the pressure. Everything they have done so far is because of the public pressure but it hasn’t been enough to force the Government to grant permanent residency to this family. Whatever the outcome in the next week or two I doubt it will be an outcome that we are looking for but hopefully it will be some sort of temporary relief.
Jiselle: I share that assessment with you Aran, that everything that has been won, or gained in this case has been because of the community pressure, from my point of view and I am curious about your thoughts about this. I felt that it was actually quite a successful manoeuvre on behalf of the Government to issue the bridging visas and the evacuation to mainland Australia, although it was Perth, because from what I could tell it took the wind out of the campaign, that it actually deflated some of the community pressure. How do you build from here to keep the momentum going so that the family can actually be returned to Biloela where the community wants them and where they belong?
Aran: Yeah so, you’re right that the Government’s decision to move this family from Christmas Island to Perth was on the back of public pressure. It wasn’t about caring about this little child. Over the last three years we have been telling politicians that detention life is hurting these children and there were many medical reports which confirmed that, but despite such knowledge politicians continued to keep this family and the children in detention and the only reason they moved them is to weaken the support this family has or make the public attention go away. And any decision that they are going to make regarding this family is going to be on the back of public pressure.
So, I am not sure about how we go from here. The way I see it the campaign has been quite successful in stopping this family getting deported. Like, it will be very hard for the Government to remove this family now. There will be so much outrage in the community. It is a matter of how we bring a permanent solution for this family now but also what do we do with the attention that this family has managed to generate? There are hundreds of other refugees in similar situations, hundreds of refugee families in similar situations, who have exhausted all the options. How do we turn this into a win for everyone? We have started the conversation about how Australia’s refugee policies are hurting people, that conversation needs to continue in a way that it leads the Australian Government to abandoning its Stop The Boats policy, it leads to Australian Governments shutting down all the detention centres.
This campaign, when Tamil Refugee Council started it, was never about just one family. It was always about everyone else. It was never about this exceptional circumstance. It’s about how Australia’s refugee policy is destroying so many other people’s lives. It was always about ending that.