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The lives of Sri Lankan Tamil refugees are still at risk

  • 26 November 2020
Sri Lankan Tamil family Priya and Nades, and their daughters Kopika and Tharunicaa, are known to most Australians as the Biloela family. They have been incarcerated in onshore and now Christmas Island detention centres. In the Geelong region and elsewhere in Victoria, further appeals by Sri Lankan Tamils to Courts have been rejected, and some now face deportation back to Sri Lanka in December and January. This action taken by Home Affairs comes despite further warnings by the United Nations of the dangers faced by those being returned.

However, there is little understanding of what may await the Biloela family and those like them if the Department of Home Affairs is successful in having them deported to Sri Lanka.

Earlier this year, Gotabaya Rajapaksa was re-elected President of Sri Lanka. His brother Mahinda also remains as Prime Minister. The Rajapaksa brothers’ re-election result comes despite their ‘Campaign of Fear’, according to Human Rights Watch, where opposition lawyers, activists, and journalists were targeted. This political thuggery included earmarked arrests, intimidation and threats. Alarmingly, Gotabaya’s other brother and two nephews have also been appointed as Ministers in his government. The Rajapaksa family have increased the military presence in the Tamil regions to the North and North East of Sri Lanka, and a recent amendment to the country's constitution gives unprecedented power to the President to continue the persecution of Tamils.

Persecution of the Tamil population, people mainly residing in the north and east, has continued since this minority group sought independence as a separate State. Violent anti-Tamil racial riots occurred over four decades. A ceasefire was signed in February 2002, but worse was yet to follow.

In 2009 Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his brother Mahinda played a major role in the oversight of Sri Lankan government armed forces killing thousands of men, women and children on the beach at Mullivaikal in the north-east. It is reported that by mid-May 2009, tens of thousands of bodies littered Mullivaikal and the area to its north-west. Many surviving Tamil rebels were tortured, mutilated and executed.

The continued persecution of Tamils has led to many fleeing Sri Lanka over the past ten years, with some landing on Australia’s shores — they have literally fled for their lives. At the beginning of August this year, 2,102 Sri Lankan Tamil refugees in Australia had been recognised as UN convention refugees and granted Temporary Protection Visas. A further 962 were still awaiting their application interviews