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Palm Sunday protests demand a better way

  • 21 March 2018


In its original setting Palm Sunday was a day of transitory celebration against a week that culminated in rejection, torture, death and the apparent end of a cause. Apparent, because of an unanticipated rising from death at the beginning of the new week.

In Australia it is the occasion for marches that honour and appeal for compassion for people who have come to Australia seeking protection. These, too, are moments of solidarity and celebration that punctuate the prevailing text of rejection, callousness and apathy on which are written the lives of people who have sought asylum.

Moving and shocking human stories of imposed suffering are ordinarily shrugged off and ignored. But occasionally a little detail reveals the human reality of our refugee practices. Last week it was a phrase spoken by a woman in a routine snatch, detain and deport job by Border Force.

Nadesalingam and Priya and their Australia-born daughters, nine-month-old Dharuniga and two-year-old Kopiga, lived in the central Queensland town of Biloela. They were well liked by the local community among whom Priya worked. Originally from Sri Lanka and married in Australia, their appeal for protection as refugees had been rejected at every level.

Priya, however, had been granted a bridging visa. As its expiry date drew near she approached Department officials to have it renewed. She was told that a new visa would be sent by mail from the Department.

At 5am the day after the expiry of her visa, however, officials from Border Force and Serco accompanied by police called at the house and ordered the family to come with them, giving them ten minutes to pack. They were taken in vans to Gladstone, flown to Melbourne and put in detention before their deportation to Sri Lanka. Nadesalingam, like many young Tamil men, had been associated with the Tamil Tigers during the civil war, and fears for his life on return to Sri Lanka. UNHCR regards those fears as justified.

Those are the external events of the story. There is no indication that any government officer did anything illegal or unusual. Just business as normal. But in any such story, it is the small details that are telling. In Priya's own words, she and Nadesalingam were driven in separate vans to Gladstone airport. The children travelled with Priya but were not allowed to sit with her, despite their distress and her pleas.


"No, we would not treat our own children, or anyone else's