The campaign for justice for refugees has lost a fighter

The campaign for justice for refugees has lost a fighter. Sadly Trevor R. Grant passed away on Sunday 5th March after a battle with mesothelioma. Trevor was amazing. As a journalist and activist he brought fire and a deep humanity to everything he did.

For many years, Trevor worked as a high profile sports journalist for Fairfax and later for Murdoch. He suspected, and was no doubt correct, that the asbestos that had nestled in his lungs came from the buildings in which those two newspapers were produced.

Trevor was one of those rare journalists who provided political and social context to his writing, even on the most everyday sporting contests. Most importantly though, Trevor knew that while sport is a battle, life is a war… and he always knew what side he was on. Everything about his life evidenced the importance he placed on standing against oppression, on siding with the underdogs against the powerful, and on refusing to let those who rule the world do so with impunity.

Through all his working life, Trevor was an ardent trade unionist. A member of the journalists’ union, the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance (and its precursor, the Australian Journalists Association), and he saw out his career as a proud member of the construction union, the CFMEU.

When he retired, Trevor threw himself into the struggle for refugee rights. At the time, the overwhelming majority of refugees coming to Australia were Tamils fleeing from the genocide in Sri Lanka. The carnage was almost unspeakable. In the final weeks of the war, Sri Lankan forces herded tens of thousands of Tamils into a narrow strip of land, fraudulently labelled “no fire zones” – and bombarded them. Alongside this were concentration camps, torture, rape and murder on an enormous scale. In these few weeks, up to 80,000 Tamils were killed. Thousands fled desperately in search of safety.

So true to his spirit, Trevor became one of the frontline fighters for Tamil justice. He co-founded the Tamil Refugee Council alongside prominent Tamil refugee and activist Aran Mylvaganam and other Tamil refugees.

One of the Council’s early initiatives was the campaign to boycott the Sri Lankan cricket team’s 2012 Australian tour. Under the slogan “Don’t let cricket hide genocide”, Trevor organised protests across Australia. He understood that the tour’s aim was to whitewash a genocidal regime. For a high profile chief sports writer, someone whose career was built on cricket journalism, it was a gutsy move to sponsor rowdy protests outside the hallowed grounds of the MCG and the WACA.

In 2014, Trevor published his tour de force, “Sri Lanka’s Secrets: How the Rajapaksa Regime Gets Away with Murder”. In painstaking detail, and with heart-wrenching accounts from survivors, the book rages at the last 30 days of the Sri Lankan war and the horror unleashed on Tamils in the north. Bruce Haigh described it as “essential reading… [and] a chronicle of genocide”, while Geoffrey Robertson QC lent his heft to the book through writing the foreword.

Trevor also railed against the Australian government’s complicity in the Sri Lankan genocide. His solidarity with the Tamils was not just one of charity for the victims. On the contrary, he understood that solidarity truly meant standing together against the crimes of the Sri Lankan AND the Australian regimes.

In 2015 Trevor visited Tamil refugees in camps in Tamil Nadu, India. Here he met the mother of Leo Seemanpillai, a 29-year-old asylum seeker who self-immolated in Geelong in June 2014, fearing he’d be deported to the hellish camps from which he fled. Trevor wrote extensively about the experience, in some of his most moving pieces.

Trevor was in many ways an honorary member of the Australian Tamil community. This was manifest not just in his outspoken journalism and activism, but in his capacity to organise furniture for Tamil refugees living in Melbourne.

In a mark of the esteem and respect in which people held Trevor, not to mention the personal impression he made on all who met him, tributes have been flowing across social media.
The Tamil Refugee Council wrote: “Trevor was incredibly passionate about the Tamil people and their cause, and our community will not be the same without him. Many Tamils remember the support he offered them, the friendship he showed them and the energy he displayed fighting for them and their freedom.”

Trevor’s commitment to Tamil justice had an impact across the Tasman. The National Council of New Zealand Tamils wrote:

“Trevor is a good human being who has dedicated his life to fight for justice. He came to New Zealand and gave a talk called “It’s just not cricket: The ongoing genocide of Tamils” organised jointly by the Green Party Aotearoa New Zealand, University of Auckland Faculty of Law and the National Council of New Zealand Tamils. Rest in peace Trevor, we will miss you very much.”

Refugee Radio, the 3CR program Trevor co-founded, also expressed their grief: “Many of us had the pleasure of knowing Trevor from a myriad of rallies, organising meetings and spirited debates… Trevor burned with a fierce passion for justice for Tamil people, and all refugees everywhere.”

Ronny Ato Buai Kareni wrote on behalf of Papuans through the office of the DFAIT Federal Republic of West Papua and The Voice of West Papua (3CR radio program in Melbourne) to express their sadness at Trevor’s passing. Ronny says of Trevor, “I remember you called me a few weeks ago to talk about West Papua and how we could keep the momentum going with the tension between Australia-Indonesia military saga. Can’t believe to hear your gone.” Even in his last few days, Trevor was concerned with organising solidarity for oppressed peoples, not just in Tamil Eelam, but everywhere.

Alex Bhathal, prominent Greens member and refugee rights advocate, noted “I’m seriously crying as I write this – RIP Trevor Grant – cricket writer and human rights activist. My condolences to his family and friends, and thinking of our mutual friend Aran Mylvaganam who shared so much with Trevor in their quest for justice for the Tamil community of Sri Lanka.”

Vale Trevor Grant. We will remember you and we will keep up the fight. Rest in peace and rest in power.