Refugee Action Collective (Vic)

Free the refugees! Let them land, let them stay!

Archives February 2018


Refugee Action Coalition



In the early hours of Tuesday, 29 February, police arrested up to 13 refugees who had been living Aku Lodge.

They were being forcibly returned to Manus Island, but for unconfirmed reasons there was a problem with the plane. The refugees are now being held at another lodge in Port Moresby surrounded by up to 50 PNG police. Their mobile phones have been confiscated.

It is expected that the refugees will be moved to Manus Island once alternative transport can be arranged.

The refugees had been living at Aku for up to 2years, after being moved from Manus Island, supposedly to be resettled in Port Moresby or further afield in PNG.

The refugees have simply subsisted in Aku since being relocated there – no jobs; no welfare program; no trauma counselling – not even the basic elements of what might comprise anything resembling a resettlement program. Essentially they became prisoners in the lodge, at risk of being robbed and assaulted if they ventured outside.

But their arrest and forced relocation back to Manus provides official confirmation that, contrary to the claims made by Minister Dutton, there are no PNG resettlement arrangements.

In 2016, there was an attempt to resettle six refugees in Lae. None are still living on Lae. Faced with the deprived circumstances in Lae – in terms of jobs, health and safety – three of the refugees actually made their way back to Manus Island and attempted to move back into the detention centre.

“This forced relocation of refugees to Manus from Port Moresby puts the lie to the Minister’s suggestion that refugee can be resettled in PNG,” said Ian Rintoul, spokesperson for the Refugee Action Coalition, “The Minister can’t hide behind that lie any longer.

“There is no resettlement in PNG, and the shonky US deal will not provide resettlement places for all the refugees on Manus and Nauru. There is an urgent need for all the asylum seekers and refugees to be brought to Australia, where they can get the safety and protection they need.”

For more information contact Ian Rintoul 0417 275 713

Media Release (Tamil Refugee Council) 23/02 | FORMER TAMIL TIGER DEPORTED TO SRI LANKA

Tamil Refugee Council press release


23 February 2018

The Tamil Refugee Council condemns the Australian government for deporting to Sri Lanka a former member of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE, or Tamil Tigers).

Santharuban, who fled the country in 2012, last night was taken into custody for questioning in Colombo, the capital, on arrival just after 10pm local time.

He had been handcuffed and removed from the Broadmeadows detention centre (Melbourne Immigration Transit Accommodation) on Tuesday evening and was driven to Sydney – escorted by four guards, one Border Force agent and one doctor – where he was detained.

Early Thursday morning, he was asked to sign a deportation document. He claims that when he refused, Border Force agents grabbed him by the shirt and threatened to handcuff him, tape his mouth shut and drag him onto the plane.

Santharuban signed the document out of fear for his safety and subsequently was put on a flight to Sri Lanka, accompanied by two guards.

The Tamil Refugee Council arranged for prominent human rights lawyer K.S. Ratnavale to be present at Colombo airport, and also made arrangements for Santharuban’s family to travel from the north of the country to meet him.

After four hours of questioning, Santharuban was released to his family. Others returning to Sri Lanka have been detained for weeks or months and endured intensive interrogation.

Ratnavale, who is director of the Centre for Human Rights and Development, told the Tamil Refugee Council he is extremely concerned about the situation and, while he is relieved that Santharuban has been released, believes that he will likely be targeted or arrested in the future.

With the 37th session of the UN Human Rights Council beginning next week in Geneva, the Sri Lankan government will be hesitant to harm him. But the culture of reprisal in the security forces runs deep.

“We did not stop the government’s reckless and shameful act,” said Aran Mylvaganam, Tamil Refugee Council spokesperson. “But, thankfully, and due in part to the intensive campaigning of activists and advocates in Australia, and the noise that we made to highlight this case, Santharuban, for the time being, has a reprieve. Under the circumstances, it is the best we could have hoped for. But he is still in a perilous situation.”

The Tamil Refugee Council will continue to monitor the situation and stay in contact with people close to Santharuban and his family.

“We know from experience that people released from custody often, in subsequent weeks and months, face renewed harassment, assault and worse from security forces. The dangers facing returned Tamils are well documented by the UN and human rights groups, and affirmed by Tamil activists and civilians,” Mylvaganam said.

“Former members of the LTTE, and those suspected of being associated with the Tigers, face greater risk of reprisals and torture.

“Given the undeniable realities on the ground, we continue to demand that the Australian government not deport Tamil asylum seekers to Sri Lanka.”

Media contact: Aran Mylvaganam 0410 197 814



The UN Committee against Torture’s decision to lift an interim measure preventing the deportation of a former member of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (Tamil Tigers) is a mistake, the Tamil Refugee Council said today.

In the letter, dated 19 February, the UN committee acceded to the Australian government’s request to lift the measure.

Santharuban, who fled Sri Lanka by boat in 2012 and is detained in the Broadmeadows detention centre (Melbourne Immigration Transit Accommodation), was issued a removal notice on 8 February. He is scheduled for deportation on Thursday 22 February.

Former Tiger members and returned Tamil refugees are routinely harassed, interrogated and worse by Sri Lankan security forces. The lifting of the interim measure leaves little time to stop Santharuban being deported to danger.

The Australian government claims that Santharuban’s membership of the LTTE, which the Sri Lankan government continues to proscribe as a terrorist organisation, is unsubstantiated.

However, a brief provided to the UN committee on 26 December contains evidence of Santharuban’s membership of the Tigers – including statements from two Tamil refugees in Australia, who were granted protection based on their LTTE membership.

The former LTTE members testified to knowing Santharuban while he was involved with the LTTE naval wing, the Sea Tigers. One member was a Sea Tiger; the other worked in the political wing of the organisation.

“I am dismayed that the Australian government would ignore this submission, and that the UN would accede to the Australian government’s request,” said Aran Mylvaganam, Tamil Refugee Council spokesperson.

“The UN Refugee Agency’s Filippo Grandi last year charged the Australian government with lacking ‘common decency’ in its treatment of refugees. UN agencies have on multiple occasions slammed Australia for violations of human rights, the Refugee Convention and even the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.”

“It is unreasonable for the Committee against Torture to accept the testimony of the Australian government while ignoring eye witness testimony of refugees in this case. I can only hope the UN has made some administrative mistake in not considering the additional evidence submitted.”

“We have requested that the UN Committee against Torture act with the utmost urgency look into the matter and reinstate the interim measure.”

The Tamil Refugee Council is calling on the UN to:

  • Reinstate the interim measure to halt Santharuban’s deportation
  • Ensure the evidence provided to the UN is considered

The Tamil Refugee Council is calling on the Australian government to:

  • Withdraw its notice of intention to deport Santharuban

Media contact: Aran Mylvaganam 0410 197 814