A SRI Lankan family whisked from their Central Queensland home by Australian Border Security (ABS) last week has been given a last-minute temporary legal reprieve from deportation.
The family of four had spent about one week in a guarded room at the Broadmeadows Detention Centre at the Melbourne Immigration Transit Accommodation (MITA) when, on Tuesday, parents Priya and Nadesalingam (Nades) were handcuffed, put in a van and taken to Melbourne airport, Priya told a translator for the Tamil Refugee Council (TRC).
She said her seven-month-old and two-and-a-half-year-old daughters (Dharuniga and Kopiga) were separated from them and travelled in another van.
They were flown to Perth, where they were put on an aircraft with several dozen other Tamils.
But a last-minute legal intervention resulted in Border Force officers removing Priya, Nades, Dharuniga and Kopiga from the plane moments before take-off.
The other Tamils on board were deported to Sri Lanka, where their future is filled with uncertainty.
Priya, Nades and their two Australian-born daughters Dharuniga and Kopiga settled in Biloela more than three years ago.
It is understood the couple came to Australia separately by boat in 2012 and 2013, following Sri Lanka's civil war and married in 2014.
On March 5 (last week), just one day after Priya's bridging visa expired, the family's home was stormed by Australian Border Force officers, police and Serco guards, according to the Tamil Refugee Council (TRC).
Two days after arriving at the detention centre, Priya and Nades signed voluntary deportation documents.
Tamil Refugee Council spokesperson said "This was a dastardly and reprehensible action".
"Dharuniga and Kopiga were born in Australia. This is their home - they have never been to Sri Lanka and do not hold Sri Lankan citizenship.
Priya and her family fled Sri Lanka in 2000 and Priya came to Australia five years ago. She has not been in the country for 18 years and her family is no longer there.
"Nades faces persecution for his former association with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, which was militarily defeated by the Sri Lankan armed forces in 2009."
Since the family was forcefully removed from their Biloela home 10 days ago, members of the Biloela community have sent a petition to the Minister for Home Affairs, Immigration and Border Protection, Peter Dutton for the family to be returned.
At the time of publication, 76,000 people had signed the petition.
A few days ago, The Greens announced they were backing the family as well, calling their detention a "shocking abuse of power" and calling for Peter Dutton to return the family ripped from their community.
"We can not stand by and allow these horrific, cruel and pointless misuses of force for supposed political gain to continue," Queensland Senator Andrew Bartlett said.
This family is not just a statistic they're human beings who've contributed to and are in turn valued members of their new community."
A spokesperson from the Department of Home Affairs said the family's case has been comprehensively assessed over many years by the department, various tribunals and courts.
"They have consistently been found not to meet Australia's protection obligations," the spokesperson said.
"Foreign nationals who do not hold a valid visa and who have exhausted all outstanding avenues to remain in Australia are expected to depart voluntarily to their country of citizenship. Those unwilling to depart voluntarily will be subject to detention and removal from Australia.
"All detention and removal operations are carried out in a way that ensures the safety and security of detainees. Appropriate consideration is given to the needs of any children involved."
Community member Angela Fredericks has told the Tamil Refugee Council the peaceful family was going about their early-morning routine when their nightmare began and their home was raided last week.
"Nades was getting ready to go to his job at the local meatworks and Priya was warming a bottle for the baby," she said.
Their seven-month-old and two-and-a-half-year-old daughters were ripped from their beds. (They) were given 10 minutes to pack up their lives."
Priya has been described by friends as a dedicated mother and Nadesalingam was said to be well-regarded at the Biloela meatworks.
"The community of Biloela is shocked and dismayed that Border Patrol rounded the family up (on Tuesday night) and tried to send them to Sri Lanka - despite the pleas of so many to reconsider deportation," Ms Fredericks said.
"I am deeply distressed by the manner in which these four beautiful souls are being treated. Handcuffed like criminals. Separating babies and infants from parents. Has Australia learnt nothing from our history? I urge the Government to take a long look and think about what it is doing."
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