The words “I’m scared” kept repeating in the background of a phone call to the Christmas Island detention centre.
It was 2.45am on Saturday and four-year-old Kopika was crying hysterically.
“What’s happening?” she yelled as her mum, Priya, tried consoling her.
Their anguish could be heard thousands of kilometres away via a telephone line connecting Priya to a family friend in Queensland.
The person on the other end was Angela Fredericks, who managed to make contact with the Sri Lankan family less than an hour after learning they had been flown to Christmas Island.
Kopika and her two-year-old sister Tharunicaa, are “incredibly distressed”, Ms Fredericks told The New Daily.
“The trauma that our government has put this family through is absolutely horrific and that should be a crime in itself,” she said.
Priya and husband Nadesalingam (also known as Nades) fear they will face persecution if they are deported back to their home country.
Their lawyer, Carina Ford, only became aware of the family’s transfer to Christmas Island via an overnight email from the Immigration Department.
They remained at a Melbourne detention centre until last Thursday night, when they were bundled onto a plane back to Sri Lanka.
But a last-minute injunction ordered by a Federal Court judge changed the family’s destination to Darwin military base.
The reprieve, which ends at 4pm on Wednesday, was granted so immigration officials could assess two-year-old Tharunicaa’s claim for protection.
The rest of the family’s applications for protection were refused, with a Department of Home Affairs spokesperson saying they had been “comprehensively assessed”.
“When the department says they have comprehensively assessed this family’s application, that is not the truth,” said Aran Mylvaganam, a spokesman from the Tamil Refugee Council.
He pointed to a country information report that the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) prepared about Sri Lanka.
“It denies the fact that Tamils are being persecuted in Sri Lanka,” Mr Mylvaganam told The New Daily.
“Therefore it makes it really difficult for Tamils to have a protection claim accepted by the Australian government.”
In the country report, DFAT concluded “Sri Lankans face a low risk of mistreatment that can amount to torture”, noting there have been “few” verified reports of torture since the end of a 26-year-civil war against Tamil Tiger rebels in 2009.
Mr Mylvaganam maintains Sri Lanka is a “dangerous country for Tamils”, saying DFAT has “for whatever reason” produced a report that “appeases the Sri Lankan government” and does not accurately reflect the situation there.
He said nine out of 10 protection claims by Tamil people have been rejected over the past two years.
“Tamil claims have the highest rejection rate out of all refugee groups,” he said, adding that it is “very difficult” to get a court to overturn a decision about a protection application that has already been rejected.
“The courts don’t assess their application – the courts only look at any judicial errors that were made in their application being assessed.”
Border Force officials accompanied by Serco guards stormed the family’s Queensland home on March 5 last year.
They were driven to Gladstone airport and placed on a Melbourne-bound flight after the couple’s temporary bridging visas expired.
‘Not owed protection’
The family spent some 18 months in a Broadmeadows detention centre.
In June last year, the Federal Court rejected their appeal, and in May the High Court dismissed the family’s application for a review of their case.
Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton said Priya and Nades arrived illegally by boat and will not be allowed to stay in Australia.
“This case has gone on for a long time … it’s been on review to the Magistrates Court, on review to the Federal Court, to the full Federal Court, to the High Court,” Mr Dutton told Channel Nine’s Today Show on Friday.
“I would like the family to accept that they are not refugees, they’re not owed protection by our country.”