Activists at Melbourne Airport disrupted a Qantas flight being used to transport Tamil asylum seeker Puvaneethan, 25, amid fears he would be deported once in the Northern Territory.
A spokesperson for the Department of Immigration and Border Protection confirmed that Puvaneethan was returned to Maribyrnong.
“A routine transfer of a detainee was disrupted today by a group of protesters after the detainee had boarded a flight,” the department said in a statement.
“This routine transfer involved a domestic movement and was not a deportation.
“Due to the action of some of these protesters, the transfer did not proceed and some passengers were inconvenienced as a result.”
Refugee Action Collective (RAC) spokesman Chris Peterson said the protest group had urged passengers to refuse to sit down unless Puvaneethan was allowed to get off.
“We were concerned that the transfer would put him away from his family, friends and legal support and lay the basis for him to be deported to Sri Lanka which has happened quite a number of times in the past few years,” he said.
The Immigration Department said the incident was “unfortunate” and that it would “continue with plans to transfer this detainee”.
Meanwhile the airline confirmed a number of passengers were offloaded before the plane took off this morning, as they were being disruptive and refusing to do up their seatbelts.
The protesters were linked to the group responsible for disrupting the Australian Open men’s final on Sunday night.
Jasmine Pilbrow, 21, was among the group of activists who went to the airport in search of Puvaneethan.
She said the group walked past him as he waited for his flight to Darwin, so she bought a ticket and boarded the plane.