Priya and Nadesalingam's two daughters Dharuniga and Kopiga.
Priya and Nadesalingam's two daughters Dharuniga and Kopiga. Contributed

Children 'ripped' from beds, border force threatens deportation

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A CLOSE-knit community has condemned the Department of Home Affairs after one of its much-loved families was removed from their home and taken to a Melbourne detention centre.

The people of Biloela were left stunned last week when the Sri Lankan family's home was stormed by Australian Border Security at 5am last Monday.

Priya, Nadesalingam and their two daughters Dharuniga and Kopiga settled in Biloela more than three years ago.

Community member Angela Fredericks has told the Tamil Refugee Council the peaceful family was going about their early-morning routine when their home was raided.

"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."

A neighbour who witnessed the raid described it as something out of a Hollywood movie.

Sri Lankan family
Sri Lankan family Contributed

Following what Tamil Refugee Council spokesman Ben Hillier called an "extraordinary incident", Priya and Nades were put into separate vans, driven to Gladstone Airport and flown to the Broadmeadows Detention Centre at the Melbourne Immigration Transit Accommodation (MITA).

Although more than a week has passed since the removal of the family on March 5, aftershocks are still rolling through the small Central Queensland community.

Biloela residents have sent a petition to the Minister for Home Affairs, Immigration and Border Protection, Peter Dutton for the family to be returned.

So far, 5868 people have signed it.

"To rip a family from a community and potentially deport them back to uncertainty and danger is quite serious, which is reflected in the tremendous amount of community anger and response," Mr Hillier said.

The local community is up in arms that this could happen without warning."

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."

No further comment could be made due to privacy reasons.

A friend told Tamil Refugee Council that Priya was a dedicated mother and Nadesalingam was well-regarded at the Biloela meatworks.

"Everyone is shocked and outraged about the way they just came and swooped in," the friend said.

"People are just appalled that this is happening in Australia, that people can be treated this way."

She said members of the Biloela community had written letters to the department before Christmas, asking that the family be granted permanent protection.

We can't understand why this would happen. Our community is not ready to let this family go."

Ben Hillier told The Observer Priya and her husband's bridging visa expired on March 4 - the day before they were removed from their house.

He said while the ABS's actions were justified on the basis that the bridging visas had expired ... to have a family raided at 5am, separated and flown more than 2000km is extraordinary.

"This is the most reprehensible instance I can remember happening at the hands of the Government," Mr Hillier said.

Speaking on the phone from MITA through a Tamil Refugee Council translator, Priya said she was "humiliated" by the incident.

"I asked the guards 'If it were your children would you treat them this way, or is it only because we are refugees?'," Priya said.

She said despite both her children's cries and distress, neither of them were allowed to sit with her on their way to the airport.

"I was made to feel worthless. I will never forget that experience," she said.

It is understood Priya was in contact with her caseworker at the Department of Immigration when she was led to believe her visa was being renewed.

"She was waiting for it to arrive in the mail," Mr Hillier said.

For whatever reason she thought there'd be no problems, hence the family not making any preparations for being uprooted."

It is believed Priya and Nadesalingam arrived in Australia by boat between 2012 and 2013.

After two days of house arrest at the detention centre, Priya said she and her husband signed voluntary deportation documents, thrusting their future into uncertainty.

She said Border Force officers told her when they arrived that if the documents were not signed, they would be denied access to a phone and she and her husband would be separated before being deported.

"We have to stay in our room, the children can't go outside ... they don't understand what is happening. There are three guards outside the room," Priya said.

We are living as prisoners."

Whether or not the family will be deported depends on the next step: The justice system.

"It's in the courts' hands in terms of them getting an injunction to get the visas process re-established," Mr Hillier said.

"But in the end, the minister (Peter Dutton) has the capacity to do this and should do this.

"The case-line is they should be allowed to stay in this country and raise their family in peace."

Amnesty International's latest annual report, published on 22 February said in Sri Lanka "reports of torture and other ill-treatment in detention continued".

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