A Tamil family facing deportation from Australia could be forced to leave the country as early as Thursday after its last-ditch effort to stay failed, according to supporters.
Asylum seekers Priya and Nadesalingam, and their two Australian-born daughters have been held in a Melbourne detention centre since March 2018, when they were taken from the tiny Queensland town of Biloela.
On Wednesday, the government blocked an application for an assessment of the dangers that toddler Tharunicaa may face if she is sent to Sri Lanka.
“The department had previously agreed not to deport the family until the youngest child Tharunicaa had her claim for asylum heard,” Biloela resident and supporter Angela Fredericks told SBS News.
In a letter to the family, seen by SBS News, the Department of Home Affairs said the application was unsuccessful. It does not detail the reasons behind this.
“[Now] the road has ended. They’re not going to let Tharunicaa have her claim heard and that now means there’s nothing stopping them from deporting the family,” Ms Fredericks said.
SBS News has contacted the Department of Home Affairs about why the application was unsuccessful but is yet to receive a reply.
Priya and Nadesalingam came to Australia separately by boat in 2012 and 2013 following Sri Lanka’s civil war. They settled in Biloela for four years on a temporary bridging visa, which ran out in March 2018.
The couple and their two daughters have been at risk of deportation since the High Court denied their final bid to stay in May.
Ms Fredericks said the family could now be deported at a moment’s notice.
“They’re very frightened … It’s now extremely up in the air. We have been told of cases when immediate deportation can happen without people even been given documents, or they could sit there for a while. We really have no idea,” she said.
Ms Fredericks said the one avenue left was intervention from Immigration Minister David Coleman.
“Up until they are out of this country the minister can step in and intervene,” she said.
“My message to the minister is that this is a hard-working family who wants to contribute to regional Australia and there is a community here willing to welcome them back. And we will do anything to keep this family here.”
Supporters have also cited the recent case of a Warrnambool family who were facing deportation back to Singapore. Mr Coleman intervened to grant them permanent residency, just days before they were set to be deported.
“Last week, Mr Coleman took a common-sense approach when he listened to the community of Warrnambool and stepped in to allow Vasrine and her family to remain in Australia,” Ms Fredericks said.
“Australians have opened their hearts to Priya, Nades and the girls and Mr Coleman has shown that he can open his heart too.”
A petition to bring the family home to Biloela has been signed by more than 200,000 people.
Safe to return?
The family claims they would face persecution in 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.
But Sri Lankan Consul General to Australia Lal Raj Wickrematunga has previously 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.”
And in an earlier statement to SBS News, the government 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.