Tough ASIO action splits newly-wed Tamil asylum-seekers

Jane Lee, in The Age, 13 May 2012

A MELBOURNE man says he was only given five minutes to farewell his refugee wife and stepchildren before they were taken to Sydney’s Villawood detention centre indefinitely. Ganesh and Sri Lankan refugee Ranjini got married last month with the approval of the Department of Immigration. Hoping to start a new life together, they enrolled Ranjini’s two sons, now aged six and eight, into Mill Park Primary School.

But the newlyweds’ happiness was short-lived. On Thursday, they were asked to attend a meeting with immigration officials. “In the meeting, they said that Ranjini has got an adverse security assessment. I was allowed only five minutes to chat with them and they were taken away,” Ganesh said in a statement. “We were happy and the kids were even happier … we wanted to start new life with hope. But now we are shocked…We are separated. There has been too much pain before. Are we going to be put through the same pain in Australia as well?”

Ranjini’s first husband was killed in Sri Lanka in 2006. She and her children arrived in Australia on Christmas Island in 2010 and spent the next two years in several detention centres all over Australia.

They were moved from Christmas Island to Western Australia’s Leonora Detention Centre, then to South Australia’s Inverbrackie Detention Centre in 2011, and months later to community detention in Brisbane. Ranjini met Ganesh while he was in Brisbane on holiday late last year, and moved to Melbourne to marry him earlier this year.

She and her sons were finally granted refugee status last September, pending ASIO’s security assessment. It was the final hurdle which, if cleared, would have paved the way for the family to obtain visas enabling them to stay in Australia.

Pam Nielsen first met Ranjini as a visitor at Inverbrackie. Ms Nielsen, an art teacher, drew, painted and chatted with her in the detention centre. “It released the headaches and the stress and the sleepless nights and the uncertainty,” she said. “Each time I’d visit her she’d get a little bit more hope up. She’d say to me ‘next month they’ll tell me (if I’ve been granted refugee status).

“She’s a little tiny thing but she’s got the biggest smile and considering everything, she’d always have this big smile. I’d go and visit her and all she wanted to do was cook me food, she’d want to please me even though she was in a terrible situation. She’s a gorgeous, kind gentle little lady.”

Ms Nielsen said Ranjini’s children were “amazingly resilient” despite their ordeal. She attended Ranjini and Ganesh’s wedding last month in Melbourne. “It was so nice to see her finally happy and (feeling) some contentment. The boys were looking forward to school. When I left Melbourne I thought this was wonderful. Five years in the making.”

Ranjini had hoped to one day attend art school, she said. Ganesh, who works in Melbourne, flew to Sydney on Friday to see his family. He sent Ms Nielsen a text message to let her know they were “okay,” she said. “He said in the text ‘I don’t understand why’.”


An Appeal by Kamal Nathan

Dear All,

The least everyone of us can do is to contact Members of Parliament and Senators to take up this issue, in the Parliament. What we need to raise is that ASIO assessment procedure is unfairly locking up people in Australia on the grounds of security threat, who are seeking a new life we need to impress an opportunity should be given. We need to raise the following issues:

· How is a war widow with two little boys, “who starts a new life with marrying someone she loves” become a security threat to Australia?

· Sri Lanka calls any Tamil who speak against atrocities to fellow Tamils as “terrorists”; conducted all out war against Sri Lanka citizens of Tamil ethnicity, discarding all request from World leaders and alleged to have committed war crimes and crimes against Tamils as given in UNSG’ Experts Panel Report and evidence presented by Channel 4 “Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields – War Crimes Unpunished”, how could evidence from such an oppressive regime be considered as reliable?

· We appeal to the appropriate authorities to review differently, the procedure adopted by ASIO with respect to, refuges from Sri Lanka. The refugees who are arriving at the shores of Australia faced a situation which is so oppressive, their acts may be self preservation; to punish them as “terrorists” without giving an opportunity is inhuman. The number of suicide in the detention centre is an evidence against desperation of detainees; should Australia put them through more suffering or give them a probationary period to live in Australian soil?

There are number of people who have failed ASIO clearance, 16 of them are kept at Port Augusta. Ranjini and two boys were at Inverbrackie for about nine months before she was released into the community, we knew her and her two boys and interacted , we need to take this case to see whether we can change the way ASIO is assessing refugees here. I hope you conscience is affected as much as mine and wanting to do something. If we do not make an effort, we have failed.

Please read the article below, which we can use to highlight the problem with ASIO assessment method, but we need to present alternatives to give an option to the Australian government.

Hope ATC and other organizations take this issue seriously.


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