A small Queensland town is fighting for the return of a Sri Lankan family seeking asylum after they were detained in an early-morning raid one day after a visa expired.
The close-knit town of Biloela has called for the release of Priya and Nadesalingam, both Tamils, and their two Australian-born daughters after Border Force officers knocked on their door at 5am and detained them on the other side of the country in Melbourne.
More than 24,000 people have signed an online petition, created by a local.
It’s understood the parents came to Australia separately by boat in 2012 and 2013 following Sri Lanka’s brutal civil war, and settled in the Queensland town on a bridging visa, which expired last Monday.
“They have lived here for over three years and are a caring, hardworking family,” petition creator Angela Fredericks wrote.
Nadesalingam was getting ready for work at the local meatworks at 5am and the children were in their beds when officials came to the house.
“Their seven-month-old and two-and-a-half-year-old daughters were ripped from their beds,” Ms Fredericks said.
“[They] were given 10 minutes to pack up their lives.”
The Guardian reported Priya was in contact with a Department of Home Affairs caseworker to renew the visa and believed one was in the mail.
Tamil Refugee Council’s Aran Mylvaganam said the young daughters Dharuniga and Kopiga were separated from their mother during the removal.
“The children cried and cried until they passed out or fell asleep,” Mr Mylvaganam said.
“Priya was begging to sit with them.”
He said the incident shocked the Tamil community and the family were not allowed outside contact until they signed deportation papers.
“The children are distressed and disoriented. They don’t understand what is happening. My daughter is asking to go to her friend’s house in Biloela,” Priya has told a council translator.
Ms Fredericks said the Biloela community is behind the family with Nadesaligam’s workmates devastated and mothers from the girls’ daycare in disbelief.
“Our community is not ready to let this family go. They love living and contributing to our society,” she wrote.
A Home Affairs spokesperson said the family’s case has been comprehensively assessed over many years.
“They have consistently been found not to meet Australia’s protection obligations,” the spokesperson said.
The spokesperson said the removals were carried out safely.
“Appropriate consideration is given to the needs of any children involved.”
The Greens are also backing the family and called their detention a “shocking abuse of power”.
“We cannot stand by and allow these horrific, cruel and pointless misuses of force for supposed political gain to continue,” Queensland senator Andrew Bartlett said.