A victory against deportations
Refugee rights activists have scored an important victory writes Liz Walsh in Socialist Alternative.
A Tamil asylum seeker, known as Anjan, was scheduled to be deported back to Sri Lanka on Wednesday. But an eleventh-hour appeal successfully overturned yesterday’s Federal Magistrates Court decision which denied Anjan an injunction on his removal.
Importantly, the court appeal was backed up with direct action by refugee rights activists outside the Maribyrnong detention centre. The very night that the Federal Court rejected Anjan’s application a vigil was established, with Tamil activists maintaining a presence overnight to ensure Anjan wasn’t removed in the early hours of the morning.
At 7am this morning around 50 protestors assembled outside the entrance of Maribyrnong and maintained a spirited and defiant blockade, chanting “We shall not be moved” and “Free, free the refugees!”, until news of the court victory.
No vehicle left the detention centre until it was searched and vetted by activists to ensure Anjan wasn’t inside. In a show of tremendous courage a dozen Tamil asylum seekers, many on bridging visas and who, like Anjan, have also exhausted their legal appeals for protection, joined the protest despite their vulnerable situation.
The protesters had to face off against a sizeable police presence. Within the first few hours of the blockade police numbers matched the protesters. Their contingent also included the notorious Public Order Response team, Baillieu’s riot cops, who lined up in formation behind our blockade, the commander menacingly motioning how they would violently sweep aside our sit-down protest.
In the end the police opted to withdraw after a scuffle showed our resolve. No doubt the presence of TV cameras and reporters on the scene, ready to capture our desperate resistance and their thuggery, influenced their decision.
If the injunction had failed or the blockade had been broken forcefully by the police, protest action at Tullamarine airport was to be the next step and Thai airways the target with the aim of appealing to passengers at check-in to do whatever they could to disrupt the flight.
Our determination to stop Anjan’s deportation stemmed from our knowledge that he faces terrible danger if he is returned to Sri Lanka.
Anjan was to be the second Tamil forcibly deported this year. In July, Immigration forcibly deported another Tamil asylum seeker, Dayan Anthony. When his plane landed in Colombo he was immediately handed over to the Sri Lankan police and interrogated for 16 hours. Under duress he gave a farce of press conference to deny his previous allegations of torture by the Sri Lankan state. Dayan and his family are now in hiding in Sri Lanka.
Dayan is right to be fearful. Post-civil war Sri Lanka continues to be a dangerous place. Thousands of Tamils as well as human rights activists and journalists critical of the Rajapaksa regime have disappeared, abducted by the infamous unmarked white vans that have become the symbol of terror.
Furthermore, just this year dozens of Tamil asylum seekers deported by Western governments have been tortured in the months after they were returned. Testimony of asylum seekers, backed up by human rights organisations such as Freedom from Torture and Human Rights Watch, tell of gruesome torture techniques – of being tied up with ropes and hung upside down for hours, of being beaten with concrete-filled poles or metal cables and sexually assaulted.
Tamils with perceived or real connections to the defeated Tamil Tigers in particular are targeted for repression. Anjan, a farmer from northern Sri Lanka, fits this category. His brother, a resistance fighter with the Tamil Tigers, was murdered in the final phase of the civil war in 2009. Another brother disappeared. Anjan fled Sri Lanka in early 2010 because of this threat.
Terrified at the prospect of being returned, Anjan slit his throat in the early hours of this morning. Not even this dramatic demonstration of a well-founded fear of persecution would move immigration officials. They callously reiterated that his act of self-harm would not alter the outcome of asylum seeker claims.
Anjan’s injunction means that he is now safe until January. We should celebrate this victory. Victories in the refugee rights movement are hard to come by as the Labor government continues its race to the bottom with the Liberals in anti-refugee policy. The latest being the absurd move to excise the entire mainland from Australia’s migration zone. Not to mention the horror that is the Pacific Solution and the hellish conditions on Nauru which are fuelling the inspiring daily mass protests by the detainees.
But we can’t rest on our laurels. Anjan is not an isolated case. Around 200 Tamil and Hazara asylum seekers currently face the imminent threat of being forcibly deported after years in Australia’s detention camps.
For now the government is attempting to coerce failed asylum seekers into “voluntarily” return by cutting all government financial support. They are attempting to starve out and break their will to resist.
But if this fails, and we hope to god it will, we can expect that in the coming weeks and months the refugee rights movement’s capacity to stop a deportation will once again be tested. We need to make sure we come back stronger.