‘My kids are growing up in detention’


After years of displacement during the prolonged Sri Lankan civil war, Yogachandran Rahavan and his family were placed in a refugee camp. In 2009 they were formally recognised as refugees by the UNHCR and Australian immigration authorities.

ASIO has since branded Yogachandran and his wife Sumathy as  threats to national security and as a result they cannot be resettled in Australia. One year ago, the family were transferred to Villawood detention centre, where Sumathy gave birth.

Yogachandran and Sumathy are concerned about the future of their children (aged 7, 4 and 1) who only know what life is like behind the wire.

Yogachandran writes:

My family’s situation has been a worst-case scenario for 2 years now.

When your son is born in a detention centre and has celebrated every birthday in detention since.


When your daughter asks you why you are locked up and treated like a criminal if you aren’t one.

When your day-to-day life is restricted in every humiliating way imaginable.

And with all of this, you are not given a single reason why and you are not told when the ordeal will end.

There are currently 51 detainees in legal limbo in detention around Australia. Yet it is clear that the government had not given much thought of how to handle our situation, and it has not occurred to them to talk to us about it.

So I will start the discussion now and these words are for the Australian Government.

A drawing by one of Yogachandran Rahavan’s children, Atputha

I was a farmer once but I lost everything.

I wanted to come to Australia because I was sure Australians would help my family. Australians would understand that we have to survive and we have to feel safe, and this is where we could do it.

I am left not even able to explain to my children why we remained locked up.

Other children get their mother and father to take them to school, my eight year old daughter gets me along with a different Serco guard each day, a frightful experience for any human being, let alone a young child. She has asked that the guards stay in the car while my wife and I walk her the extra few meters to the school gate but this request has been refused.

What crimes have we committed for us to be locked up, she asks me. But I don’t have any answers to her questions.

As parents we are constantly worried for our children’s mental stability. But as the already frustrating system of restrictions keeps tightening around us, we cannot help but feel severely shaken ourselves.

We are encouraged to take part in activities at certain times to ‘earn’ points. But I am not a sheep; I do not need a shepherd.
Sometimes it is hard to remember that I am a 35 year old man with a family.

And the sum of these frustrating indignities is what really breaks you in the end.

Indefinite detention cannot be a civilised way to approach humanity.

It is not for liberty to be locked up with no end in sight.

getup australia
A drawing done by Yogachandran Rahavan’s children

The ASIO law fails to provide us with the proper avenue to access the law, rendering us in a permanent state of legal limbo. We believe it is well within our rights as dignified humans to demand changes in the form of a review system, without costing anyone.In this country there is equality and a system of law applied equally to all Australians.

Australians have always been very generous and this is evident in the lawyers who are doing everything they can for us. It is not hard for me to imagine life as an Australian. I don’t and can’t hate Australia. After all, we are proud our kids are now permanent residents and will one day be living a prosperous, dignified and secure life here.

Yes, we are in that worst-case scenario.

But what keeps us going are the greater notions of democracy and liberty, and the thought that one day we will be part of the Australian community, living and raising our kids to be good Australians.

You can sign Get Up’s petition demanding an explanation for ASIO’s decision to detain this family indefinitely with no opportunity for an appeal – go here.

It is also World Refugee Week and Amnesty has a number of suggestions for what you can do to support refugees here.


More articles