explainer

Priya watched as her fiancé, and five other men, were burned alive. The lives Tamils are fleeing from. 

Priya watched as her fiance was burned alive, alongside five other men, at the hands of the Sri Lankan government.

It was an atrocity that was commonplace. He was killed because he belonged to the Tamil ethnic group, native to Sri Lanka, but persecuted by the Sri Lankan Military.

It’s estimated that 40,000 Tamils have been killed. But the number could be as high as 70,000. It’s hard to know, given the government at the time wasn’t really counting.

During the Sri Lankan civil war, and according to multiple reports, even since, Tamils have been subject to widespread rape, torture, bombings and murder.

It was 2012 when Priya, having lost the man she was meant to marry, decided to seek asylum in Australia. She wouldn’t have known much. Just that in Australia, your country does not kill you because of the blood that runs through your veins.

One year later, a man named Nadesalingam sought refuge for the same reason. A Tamil, Nadesalingam is said to still bare scars, and wear the shrapnel that exploded onto him from a government bomb.

In Australia, Priya and Nadesalingam met. They married. Nadesalingam got a job in the Biloela meatworks. They had two children. It was surely a life previously unimaginable to a woman who watched a man she loved burn.

For more than three years, the couple lived in Biloela, a small community in Central Queensland.

Then, in March last year, Priya’s bridging visa expired. She says she was in communication with a case worker from the Department of Home Affairs, according to The GuardianPriya was expecting a new visa to arrive.

It never came, though.

Instead, while Nadesalingam was getting ready for work and Priya was preparing a bottle for her seven month old baby, their home was stormed by police.

Their sleeping children were taken from their beds, while Priya and Nadesalingam were given just 10 minutes to collect whatever they needed. They would never be coming back.

Simone Cameron, who used to live in Bioela with the family, told the ABC they were, “lovely, salt-of-the-earth people… They’ve had such a traumatic life living through a war and they just thought a town like Biloela was the answer to their dreams.”

Cameron recalls teaching Nadesalingam English, while another community member says he volunteered at St Vincent’s de Paul.

The family of four, two of whom were born in Australia, were sent to a detention centre in Melbourne.

For months, they were held in small rooms, unable to go outside or see other people.

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According to The Guardianmedical reports show that the two girls “suffered severe vitamin deficiencies”, as well as a number of other medical issues. Tharunicaa experienced infections in her teeth, which eventually turned them black. There were delays in accessing treatment and medication.

Doctors have said that nothing about the detention facilities in Melbourne are suitable for children.

On Thursday night, the family was removed from detention and placed on a plane departing from Melbourne Airport.

Cameron told the ABC“Priya reports that some of the guards have been rough and aggressive with her, that she can’t feel one of her shoulders… She asked for the chance to go and change her clothes and they refused her that.”

Just after 3am on Friday morning, they arrived in Darwin, where they were held in a hotel. For hours, no one know where the family were.

When contact was reestablished, advocates learned that the family were being taken to Christmas Island late on Friday night.

The family’s lawyer, Carina Ford, told the ABC“I mean there’s a reason why Christmas Island was closed in the first place, and it’s remote… the conditions have never been appropriate and it’s obviously just the fact that this has happened overnight with two young children is of course traumatic.”

On Friday, Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton told Nine’s Today program, “I would like the family to accept that they are not refugees, they’re not owed protection by our country,” defending his position to send the family back to Sri Lanka.

“They came here by boat and we’ve been very clear that they wouldn’t stay.”

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has today announced that he could not “in good conscience” allow the family of four to stay in Australia, and to make a last minute ministerial intervention would send the wrong message to other asylum seekers.

“It’s not about the public mood, it’s about what is the right decision for Australia’s national interest to ensure that the integrity of our border protection regime is maintained,” Morrison told reporters in Sydney, before adding, “That’s not how you run strong borders.”

Nadesalingam sent a simple message in response to Australian politicians: “We want to go home. We want to go back to Biloela. We want a safe life for our children and for us.

“I believe Peter Dutton has a big heart. I believe, as a father, he can understand my feelings.”

As it stands, two-year-old Tharunicaa may be the family’s last hope.

The Federal Court determined on Friday that her case for asylum had not been properly heard by immigration officials. At this stage, the family can stay in Australia until 4pm on Wednesday.

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According to a source, Priya is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder following her last visit to Christmas island.

Biloela, the small town where the family resided, are doing everything they can to keep them in Australia, with a Change.org petition titled “Bring Priya and her beautiful family back home to Biloela, Queensland,” attracting more than 240,000 signatures.

The outpouring of support for the family has been enormous, coming from former opposition leader Bill Shorten, as well as 2GB radio broadcaster, Alan Jones.

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For this family, it seems, Australia will keep fighting.

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