Priya and Nades

I think everyone in Australia pretty much knows about Priya and Nades and their family, but just in case you were living under a rock, they are Tamil refugees from Sri Lanka.  Nades has links to the Tamil Tigers; Priya saw her fiancé and several other men from her village burned alive.

Nades came here by boat in 2012 and Priya in 2013, and they settled in the town of Biloela in Central Queensland.  They met in Australia, married, and had two daughters, Kopika and Tharunicaa, now aged two and four.  While they were waiting for their claims to be assessed, they integrated into the local community.  Nadesh worked at the meatworks and volunteered at St Vincent de Paul; Priya was active in the community and would bring curries to the doctors at the local hospital.

In other words, aside from coming here by boat, they did everything that we ask immigrants to do – they moved to a rural area, they became part of their local community, they worked in jobs that are undesirable and hard to fill.

Priya was on a bridging visa that was about to expire and had been told that a new Visa was in the mail.  But instead, on the day after it expired, she and the family were arrested at home at 5am.  The family was flown to Melbourne and Priya and Nades were separated and made to sign voluntary deportation papers or risk being deported separately.  They have been held in detention for 18 months while their appeals were heard, during which time there have been reports that the children, in particular, have suffered from ill-health and not been given access to proper medical treatment.  Last Thursday night, they were told they were being deported.  An emergency injunction forced the plane to land in Darwin; the family was subsequently flown to Christmas Island.  There is some fairly harrowing video footage of the children screaming for their mother as she was dragged away by Border Force Personnel.

It is worth noting that the official DFAT advice on travelling to Sri Lanka right now is ‘exercise a high degree of caution’.  The state of emergency lapsed only a week ago, and could resume at any time.

It is also worth noting that the UN is pretty dubious about human rights in Sri Lanka at present.  Their Special Rapporteur on Torture noted in 2017 that torture was routinely used against Tamil security suspects, and a report from December last year on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism tells us:

In his report, the Special Rapporteur shares several key observations and human rights concerns with regard to the continued use of the Prevention of Terrorism Act of 1979, despite the long-overdue commitment of the Government to review and repeal it. The Act, inter alia, provides for an overly broad and vague definition of terrorism, lengthy administrative detention and ineffective judicial review, and extremely broad rules concerning the admission of confessions. He also expresses his concerns about the routine and systemic use of torture and ill-treatment under the Act and the conditions of detention. In particular, he found the conditions in the high-security wing of the prison in Anuradhapura that he visited to be inhumane.

Furthermore, the Special Rapporteur assesses that the progress of the new counter-terrorism legislation, together with the management of past cases under the Act, has been painfully slow, and this has, in turn, delayed the wider package of transitional justice measures that Sri Lanka committed to deliver in 2015. Furthermore, the Special Rapporteur observed a pervasive and insidious form of stigmatization of the Tamil community. Tamils are severely underrepresented in all institutions, particularly in the security sector and the judiciary, despite the importance of ensuring that all institutions adequately reflect the ethnic, linguistic and religious make-up of the State.

So Priya and Nades would appear to have pretty strong grounds for concern.

But you probably know that already.

I’m mostly putting this here because I’ve seen a bunch of information about what people can do shared on Twitter and Facebook, which is useful, but it disappears very fast if one is having a busy day.  I’m hoping that if I put everything that crosses my timeline here, it will be easier for others to find.

If you see something cross your timeline that I haven’t listed below, please comment and I’ll add it to the list.  Note that comments are screened, but I’ll try to keep a close eye on this over the next few days.

THINGS YOU CAN DO

Ring the relevant ministers

David Coleman, Minister for Immigration – (02) 6277 7770

Peter Dutton, Minister for Home Affairs – (02) 6277 7860 (I’ll note that when I rang his office, the person answering the phone was pretty rude and uninterested.  So if you get a similar response, it isn’t just you.  Please do not be deterred.)

Scott Morrison, Prime Minister – (02) 6277 7700

If you aren’t sure what to say, the HometoBilo.com website has some good talking points here.  Believe me, you can’t possibly be as tongue-tied as I was this morning.  (Except when I was talking to Dutton’s phone-answerer, when I got so angry at his clear implication that I was wasting his time that suddenly it turned out that I had no nerves at all and quite a bit to say.)

Ring or email your local Coalition members

The Home to Bilo crew are asking people in Coalition-held electorates to ring their local members.  The feeling is that pressure from the party room might be enough to swing this issue.

You can search for your local member’s contact details here. If you aren’t sure of your electorate, you can search by your postcode (or you can look up your electorate here).

It would be rude to neglect our Coalition Senators, don’t you think?  You can find a list of Senators by state here – just scroll down to ‘Search Senators’ and put in your postcode.

Ring or email your local Labor and Greens members

And encourage them to keep the pressure on.  (And maybe to come up with a more humane asylum seeker policy, because you shouldn’t have to be a model family not to be sent back to torture, imprisonment or death.)

Send an email to the Big Three

This excellent website has quicklinks for you to email Morrison, Dutton and Coleman.  Personalise your email if you can, but really, every bit counts.  There are also contact details for Ken O’Dowd, the Member for Flynn, which is the electorate in which Biloela is located.

Not sure what to say? I’ve put the text of my emails below – feel free to use anything you feel works.  Don’t worry about making it perfect – imperfect and sent is better than perfect and sitting in your drafts folder. 

Follow the HometoBilo campaign

This is run by the Biloela community, and they have the most current information on how you can help.

Website: https://www.hometobilo.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/solidaritywithBiloela/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/hometobilo?lang=en

Tweet, Facebook, and get your friends and family on board

Use the hashtags #HomeToBilo, #BringThemHere #LetThemStay.  And be aware that a lot of our favourite politicians are on Twitter and only an @ away…

Stop blaming the last election on rural Queenslanders

This may seem off-topic, but I did see a LOT of hate for rural Queensland after the last election from my left-wing friends.  And yes, there were clearly some people in regional Australia who voted for some terrible people.  But as we are seeing, there are also clearly some communities in regional Australia who are willing to devote an enormous amount of time and money and effort to protect a vulnerable family whom they have taken to their hearts. Good, caring people who will go the extra mile (or in this case, 1,800km) to look after their neighbours.  I think it’s really, really important that we remember this, and stop blaming regional Australia for everything that is wrong with our current government.  The government is big enough and ugly enough to be blamed in its own right…

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Sample email to the PM (note that the PM’s email inbox doesn’t seem to be working, and we are advised to send to the address below)

To: media@pm.gov.au

Subject: They’ve had a go.  Please give them a go.

ATTN: Prime Minister of Australia

Dear Prime Minister,

I’m writing in support of Priya, Nades and their children, the young Tamil family who have made their home in Biloela.

This is a family who have embodied what we ask for from our refugees. They have settled in a regional area, taken up jobs in areas where more workers are needed, volunteered for local charities and become beloved members of their community. Given the opportunity, they have the capacity to contribute enormously to Australia.

I understand that the legal situation is complex, and frankly not promising. But the minister has the discretion to intervene, as indeed he did for the Rajasegaran family only a few weeks ago. Such an intervention does not affect the laws around seeking asylum or other cases – it merely recognises that in some situations, a strict interpretation of the law does not lead to the most just outcome.

You have often spoken about the importance and value of families and of regional communities. I ask you to listen to the community of Biloela, who have taken Priya and her family to their hearts, and to advise the Immigration Minister to exercise his discretion and let this family stay.

Yours sincerely

 

Sample email to Coleman (just a few differences)

Dear Minister,

I’m writing to ask for your intervention in the case of Priya, Nades and their children, the young Tamil family who have made their home in Biloela.

This is a family who have embodied what we ask for from our refugees. They have settled in a regional area, taken up jobs in areas where more workers are needed, volunteered for local charities and become beloved members of their community. Given the opportunity, they have the capacity to contribute enormously to Australia.

I understand that the legal situation is complex, and frankly not promising. But you have discretion to intervene on compassionate grounds, and on the grounds of national interest – as indeed you did for the Rajasegaran family only a few weeks ago. Such an intervention does not affect the laws around seeking asylum or other cases – it merely recognises that in some situations, a strict interpretation of the law does not lead to the most just outcome, or the best outcome for Australia.

I ask you to listen to the voices of the Biloela community, and let this family stay in Australia.

Yours sincerely