By CAM LUCADOU-WELLS
It’s a deadly game of hide-and-seek as at-risk asylum refugees go underground…
Tamil asylum seekers in the Greater Dandenong-Casey region are in hiding after the Australian Border Force reportedly raided homes in a ramped-up operation to send young men back to Sri Lanka.
Asylum seeker advocates say that about 20 people have been snatched in home raids in recent weeks, and that many of the hundreds of Tamil asylum seekers in the area are at risk.
Some have gone underground leaving behind their homes, work, friends and even their mobile phones as they sleep in their cars.
Star News believes there are plans among home-grown supporters to set up sanctuaries to hide at-risk asylum seekers.
Recently three males were removed from their south-east Melbourne home late at night by ABF officers and taken to a detention centre.
Within days, one of them was flown to Sri Lanka, the others are believed to have lodged appeals while in detention.
Jesuran Wellness Centre spokeswoman Catherine Franklin said many had recently had their applications rejected as part of the Federal Government’s ‘fast track’ program.
She said asylum-seekers classified as “double negatives” have had Centrelink payments and work rights cut off even as they await the outcomes of last-ditch appeals.
“Their mental health is going downhill particularly for those who can’t earn an income.”
Another plentiful local populace, the Hazara community, especially those who arrived from Pakistan, is expected to be targeted next by ABF, Ms Franklin said.
She and Tamil advocates dispute the government line that it is safe for Tamils to return to Sri Lanka due to the end of the long-running civil war.
Kumar Narayanawami is a Springvale-based Tamil case manager who was once in a similar predicament as his clients.
He said he knows that 80 per cent of the Tamils in the area are on a visa knife-edge and their civil war traumas are compounded by depression and anxiety.
He fled Sri Lanka by boat four years ago after he got a phone tip-off that his face came up on a Sri Lankan Government computer as a person of interest.
Others under suspicion of Tamil Tiger links had been taken from homes and jailed or “disappeared” by the military and police without prior warning.
But advocates say Tamils now require proof of a direct serious threat or physical harm to remain in Australia.
They say those that are returned are likely to be jailed and only released on a family bond. Some suspected as Tamil Tiger sympathisers are still tortured.
Dandenong-based Tamil activist Aran Mylvaganam said there’s still a “silent war” going on in Sri Lanka.
“It’s a real worry that only a small percentage – about 10-20 per cent – of (Tamil asylum claims) are being accepted, given the serious nature of what’s happening in Sri Lanka’s north and east.
“The community is living in enormous fear. They don’t know what’s going to happen to them next.
“We’re calling for a moratorium on Tamil deportations.”
A Department of Immigration and Border Protection spokeswoman said the department didn’t comment on investigations, specific operations or people removed from Australia.
“The department continues to return people who have been found not to engage Australia’s protection obligations, and have no further outstanding immigration matters.
“People who have exhausted all avenues to remain in Australia, do not hold a valid visa, and have no lawful basis to remain are expected to return home voluntarily.”
She said “appropriate assistance” was given to “non-citizens” to establish them back in their country of origin, often with co-operation with their “international partners”.
Meanwhile the Dandenong-based Jesuran Wellness Centre has put out an urgent call for donated food and goods to help asylum seekers who do not have an income.
Meat, poultry, vegetables, rice, oil, eggs, lentils and spices were required for its free daily lunches which are cooked by volunteers.
Donations can be made to the centre at 79a Herbert Street, Dandenong, or by phone on 0407 125 649 for a pick-up.