Australian immigration officials have forcibly deported to Sri Lanka a Tamil man suffering mental health problems, despite revelations asylum seekers have been beaten and tortured when sent back.
In what threatens to be the first of up to 150 cases of Tamils sent back to Sri Lanka after failing to win refugee protection, a man in his early 30s was taken from a Melbourne detention centre to Tullamarine airport yesterday and put on a flight to Bangkok bound for Colombo.
He is believed to be the first Tamil asylum seeker to be forced out of Australia since the latest spate of arrivals began in 2008 in the final months of Sri Lanka’s brutal civil war. Other Sri Lankan asylum seekers were either sent home from Indonesia after Australia asked for their boat to be intercepted or were from the Sinhalese community.
The Tamil man – who the Herald has decided not to identify – had failed in his bid for refugee status and was refused a visa by the Immigration Minister, Chris Bowen, after appealing on mental health grounds.
He arrived in Australia by plane in 2010, having fled Jaffna, a former stronghold of the Tamil Tiger separatists.
His family insist he faces grave danger after Sri Lankan media published his photograph and what appeared to be an arrest warrant in his name.
”If he goes there, they kill him,” his sister said in tears after being told he had been taken to the airport.
Returned refugees are regularly stopped on arrival and interrogated by the Sri Lankan police’s Criminal Investigation Department.
The Herald revealed this week that some returned asylum seekers had been held for months without trial and faced state-sanctioned torture as part of their interrogation.
The man had been living with his sister in Dandenong, in Melbourne’s south-east, before being called into the Immigration Department in Melbourne last Tuesday and given a letter informing him authorities had judged him ”removable”.
The sudden news of his departure yesterday morning set off a panicked bid by refugee advocates to get a court injunction – with emails showing the man had tried for two days to send a fax from within the Maribyrnong detention centre only to find the fax machine was not working.
Joel Townsend, of Victoria Legal Aid, who represented the man in the appeal to the minister, said given recent reports from Sri Lanka about the treatment of returnees, the man was considering further action.
”It is disappointing that we were not given more notice of this man’s removal,” he said.
An immigration spokesman said the man had no valid visa and had failed to leave voluntarily. (Herald)