A Tamil couple held at a Darwin hotel awaiting a court ruling on their deportation has begged the Australian government to show mercy and let them stay.
In a tearful telephone plea, the couple implored Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton to grant Priya and Nades and their children Kopika, 4, and Tharunicaa, 2, a safe future in Australia.
“We are begging him to listen to us. We are scared what will happen in Sri Lanka. We want him to give our life back,” the asylum seekers said through an interpreter from the Mercure Darwin Airport Resort, where they’ve been since a federal judge dramatically halted their deportation from Melbourne to Sri Lanka early on Friday.
The couple doesn’t deny they came to Australia by boat without appropriate visas. But, Priya said, they had no other choice if they wanted to escape a civil war in Sri Lanka where insurgents were fighting for an independent Tamil state.
The family, who had been living in Biloela in central Queensland, want to return there. Nades said: “We want to go home. We want to go back to Biloela. We want a safe life for our children and for us.
“I believe Peter Dutton has a big heart. I believe, as a father, he can understand my feelings.”
Earlier on Friday, a Federal Court judge granted an extended injunction preventing their deportation to Sri Lanka until after another court hearing in five days’ time.
Angel Aleksov, representing the family, asked Justice Mordecai Bromberg to extend the injunction so there could be a further application for the family to remain in Australia.
Federal Circuit Court Judge Heather Riley first granted the injunction by phone late Thursday night, preventing any attempts to remove the family from Australia after they left Melbourne on a flight bound for Sri Lanka.
The plane landed in Darwin after the injunction was granted mid-air.
Mr Aleksov applied to the court on behalf of two-year-old Tharunicca.
There has been a request on her behalf to Immigration Minister David Coleman for permission to make a visa application.
But Mr Aleksov said there had been no assessment by any Australian official about whether she was owed protection by the federal government.
Failure by the department to refer this question to the Minister for an answer was “unreasonable in a legal sense”, he said.
Unless there was a halt on the deportation, there would be no time to appropriately consider her case for a visa.
Christopher Tran, representing the immigration department and minister David Coleman, agreed to the extension but opposed the outcome.
“The application on its face is hopeless,” he said.
Lawyer Carina Ford, also working with the family, told ABC News Breakfast on Friday morning the team filed the application on behalf of Tharunicaa.
“The main argument that we have been trying to run is that whilst, yes, the majority of the family have had their claims assessed, the youngest child hasn’t,” she said.
“We’re looking to try to get the Minister to consider lifting the bar to allow the youngest child’s claims to be considered under the refugee convention.”
“I would like the family to accept that they are not refugees. That they’re not owed protection by our country. They came here by boat and we’ve been very clear that they wouldn’t stay.” @PeterDutton_MP on a Queensland family set to be deported back to Sri Lanka. #9Today pic.twitter.com/up4joPlyXO
— The Today Show (@TheTodayShow) August 29, 2019
However, earlier on Friday, a defiant Mr Dutton told Nine’s Today the family must accept they do not deserve Australia’s protection.
“I would like the family to accept that they are not refugees, they’re not owed protection by our country,” he said.
He said the couple was told before they had children that they’d never be allowed to settle in Australia, and no court or tribunal had ever supported their case to stay.
“They came here by boat and we’ve been very clear that they wouldn’t stay.”
Taking a hard line, Mr Dutton later told Adelaide radio station 5AA the couple was using social media to garner community support.
“They are digging in and they’ve used social media. They’ve got a lot of support online because there are children involved. They want to stay and they will continue to push their argument, their case,” he said.
Attorney-General Christian Porter said the couple had paid people smugglers to reach Australia.
He accepted the Biloela community wanted them to stay, but said that wasn’t the primary issue.
“The goodness of people is one consideration,” he told Sydney radio 2GB.
“The method of how people come to Australia, and whether they actually meet the criteria for a protection visa, is another one and a more complicated matter.
Melbourne and Darwin airport scuffles
Before the family left Melbourne on Thursday night after being transported from an immigration detention, there were dramatic scenes at the airport when about 60 supporters rushed to try to stop them being put on the plane.
Tamil Refugee Council spokesperson Aran Mylvaganam said two people were arrested after cutting through a fence to reach the tarmac.
When the plane stopped to refuel in Darwin at 2am on Friday, the family was taken off the aircraft on the judge’s orders.
Priya and Nadesalingam say they face persecution if they are sent back to Sri Lanka due to past family links to the militant political group Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.
Priya has previously said she witnessed her fiance and five other men from her village burned alive before she fled.
Family friend Angela Fredericks said Priya was injured when security guards forced her onto the plane in Melbourne. She said she was not allowed to sit with her daughters even though the youngest girl was highly distressed.
“This is just cruel and barbaric stuff,” Ms Fredericks said.
— Kate Ashton (@ktshtn) August 29, 2019
Before Thursday’s deportation action, the family had been in a Melbourne detention centre. They were taken there in March 2018 after their temporary bridging visa ran out and they were taken from their Biloela home in a pre-dawn raid.
The High Court denied their final bid to stay in May 2018.
On Friday at 11am, Justice Bromberg ordered the government be prevented from removing Tharunicca and her family until 4pm Wednesday, September 4.
The case will return to court on Wednesday morning.