Unknown fate for Rithish’s family

Rithish Kirushnaneethan, 4, died in a house fire in Dandenong on 25 July.

By Cam Lucadou-Wells

The Federal Government won’t comment on pleas for a grief-stricken asylum seeker family to stay in Australia.

The local community has been swift to help the Tamil family who lost their four-year-old son Rithish Kirushnaneethan in a house fire in Leonard Street, Dandenong on 25 July.

More than $100,000 had been raised on a Go Fund Me page for the family, who had left homeless and without any belongings.

Grief counselling, clothes and basic supplies have also been provided.

The family is still living under threat of deportation since arriving by boat from Sri Lanka in 2012.

They had been detained on Christmas Island and in Adelaide, and remained on a bridging visa for nine years, according to the Go Fund Me page.

In 2018, the family was last interviewed by Department of Home Affairs as part of their application for permanent protection.

They are still awaiting the department’s decision.

Tamil Refugee Council member Aran Mylvaganam said the “unacceptable” long wait was tormenting the family – especially knowing that “90 per cent of Tamil claims are rejected”.

“It’s had a huge impact on the mother’s mental health, even before the fire accident happened.

“We’re really worried about their wellbeing.”

The mother, who had desperately broken a bedroom window to try to save Rithish from the flames, was still in shock at his funeral service on 3 August.

“She’s finding it hard to believe she’s lost her son. She’ll have to go through the natural grieving process and we have to keep an eye on her.”

The uncertain visa status was impacting on the father’s ability to find work, especially during Covid lockdowns.

They are surviving on Status Resolution Support Services payments – which are less than the dole.

“Employers don’t want to employ a person if they mightn’t have a visa in six months,” Mr Mylvaganam said.

Supporters were focused on helping find the family suitable accommodation and schools.

“We want the family to have a place to settle down and not have to worry about the financial side of things.”

Tamil asylum claims were in the vast majority rejected due to “watered down” reports stating that Sri Lanka was safe for Tamils.

“Things are pretty bad in Sri Lanka and the Australian Government refuses to face the situation for Tamils there.”

Visa limbo was common to thousands of asylum seekers in Australia, says Asylum Seeker Resource Centre services and advocacy director Anastasia Magriplis.

“Just the time this process takes is unreasonable and unfair for them.

“The bureaucracy is over-run, the legislation is so convoluted and complex – it’s a dysfunctional system that’s in place.”

With few new arrivals due to Australia’s borders restricted due to Covid, Ms Magriplis said she hoped protection visa cases could be prioritized.

A Department of Home Affairs spokesperson said the department does not comment on individual cases.

“Australia does not return individuals to situations where they face persecution or a real risk of torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, arbitrary deprivation of life or the application of the death penalty.

“Each case is assessed on its merits and decisions, with the safety of particular countries being a factor of consideration.”