Refugees in trouble, Greece, Libya


African refugees are rescued from a dinghy in the Mediterranean Sea

From daily News Line in Britain:

Lesbos: epicentre of refugee crisis

12th October 2019

WARS in Syria and Afghanistan are driving refugees through Turkey as they make their way to Greece. Many land on the Greek island of Lesbos, which is now an epicentre of the country’s migrant crisis.

It’s a dangerous journey – but one made slightly easier by Refugee Rescue, the last remaining humanitarian rescue boat in the area. 16,000 refugees have fled to a Greek island this year.

With a crackdown on refugees in Turkey, and tough immigration policies elsewhere in Europe, the number of people fleeing to Lesbos by sea has soared to more than 16,000 this year, according to the UN.

That’s the biggest influx since 2016. As the only NGO left in Lesbos with a rescue boat, the group is working overtime, all the time.

‘We are tired, we are tired,’ said Giannis Skenderoglou, a crew coordinator for the group. ‘But that, that’s our job.’

Refugee Rescue said: ‘Refugee Rescue is a grassroots NGO operating a skilled Search and Rescue (SAR) team on the North Shore of Lesbos, Greece. Our boat crew and rescue vessel “Mo Chara” are on call 24 hours per day, ready to assist those in distress at sea.

‘Onshore, our land teams man spotting operations that keep watch along the treacherous coastline, and work alongside partners to provide emergency relief for those who have just arrived.

‘Refugee Rescue was founded in response to inadequate SAR infrastructure in 2015 when thousands of people were arriving to the island by boat, having been displaced by war, conflict and persecution.

‘Dinghies often directly navigate towards dangerous rocks or shallows that can easily break the floor of these flimsy rubber boats, causing them to sink or capsize.

‘Smugglers abandon groups of refugees on rocks and inaccessible beaches. Many boats also land on treacherous rocks and people are then stranded in locations that are difficult to reach. There is no cliff rescue here, no helicopter to come and help them, and people are often impossible to reach from land.

‘Hundreds have already lost their lives and people are still crossing the perilous stretch of water between Turkey and Lesbos every day. As long as people are denied safe passage to Europe, they will continue risking their lives unnecessarily, forced to take what is now one of the world’s most dangerous migratory routes in search of refuge.

‘By offering a consistent and skilled emergency response along this treacherous coastline, we seek to make this journey a little less deadly, with the hope of stopping any more lives being needlessly lost to The Aegean.’

Meanwhile, Médécins Sans Frontieres (Doctors without Borders) issued its own statement on Libyan refugees and migrants.

MSF said: ‘MSF is currently working to provide medical help to people trapped in appalling conditions in Libyan detention centres.

‘People are detained simply because of their migration status in overcrowded conditions, with a lack of access to sufficient food, water or medical treatment.

‘A recent assessment of just one of these centres found alarming levels of malnutrition, with some people held in a room so small there was no space to lie down. Worse still, one third of the people detained indefinitely in this centre were children.

‘But in recent days, things have got even worse. Fighting in and around Libya’s capital Tripoli led directly to the deaths of 40 vulnerable migrants and refugees after a detention centre in Tripoli was hit by an airstrike on 2 July.

‘Trapped in these centres, and at severe risk of being caught in the crossfire, migrants and refugees are unable to flee the fighting and are suffering from increased disruption to food and other supplies – some report not having eaten for days.’

Just seven of the 28 EU member nations agreed to launch a new system to help those rescued in the Mediterranean. A large majority of European Union member countries have refused to back a plan to quickly get migrants off boats in the Mediterranean Sea and distribute them among willing EU partners.

At a meeting of EU interior ministers, only Ireland, Luxembourg and Portugal offered to take part in the ‘fast-track’ plan drawn up by Germany, France, Italy and Malta, which would screen migrants, relocate asylum seekers and return people who do not apply or qualify for asylum, all within four weeks.

‘We were seven yesterday, seven this morning and seven this evening. So things haven’t changed much,’ said a downbeat Jean Asselborn, Luxembourg’s minister responsible for migration. ‘Why us, and why no one else?’

For more than a year, humanitarian ships that have picked up migrants from Libya in unseaworthy boats were blocked from docking or disembarking passengers in Italy or Malta. Italy’s former anti-migrant interior minister even threatened to jail the crews of charity-run rescue ships.

The stance taken by the two countries resulted in standoffs that kept rescued migrants at sea for weeks until other EU nations pledged to take at least some of the people seeking safety or better lives in Europe.

Tuesday’s meeting in Luxembourg had been meant to gauge enthusiasm for the temporary plan, in which countries would make ‘pre-declared pledges’ on how many asylum seekers they would accept. Details of the scheme are sketchy, but it would operate for at least six months, unless migrant arrivals increase dramatically.

Earlier, France’s European affairs minister, Amelie de Montchalin, had claimed that several countries were willing to accept asylum seekers.

‘I think there are around ten countries that are ready to play the game. Perhaps others,’ she told reporters. ‘We are going to be able to say that when a boat arrives, we know who to call and that there are countries ready to send teams in.’

But Italian Interior Minister Luciana Lamorgese said that those who agreed to take part ‘are those three or four states that had already said they were available, like Luxembourg and Ireland.’ She said she hoped that more EU partners would sign on by the end of the year.

Asselborn said that … those opposed to migrant-sharing quotas in the past – countries like Austria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia – ‘remain against it’.

Well over a million migrants arrived in the EU in 2015, most of them refugees from countries at war like Syria or Iraq, sparking one of Europe’s biggest political crises as nations bickered over who should take responsibility for them and how much others should be forced to help.

New arrivals have now dropped to their lowest levels in about seven years, particularly between Libya and Italy, but EU countries are still unable to agree on the best way forward, and far-right and anti-migrant parties have taken advantage of the confusion.

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Saving refugees from drowning, rescuer interviewed


Hannah Wallace Bowman, communications manager on board the Ocean Viking (right)

By Ben Cowles in Britain:

Friday, October 4, 2019

‘It will not be easy to reconcile how Europe is allowing this to happen

HANNAH WALLACE BOWMAN speaks to the Star about her time on board the Ocean Viking, an NGO migrant rescue ship that has saved hundreds of lives despite Fortress Europe’s dogged efforts to stop them

“I CAN’T even begin to describe how overwhelming the situation in Libya and the Mediterranean is,” says Hannah Wallace Bowman, communications manager on board the Ocean Viking, a migrant rescue ship operated by French charities Doctors Without Borders (MSF) and SOS Mediterranee.

“I don’t think I will really be coming to terms with it anytime soon,” she says after having spent close to two months at sea and saving the lives of over 650 people.

The Ocean Viking, which launched in August, is MSF and SOS Mediterranee’s return to sea-based migrant rescues. The charities had been operating the Aquarius for several years before, but were forced to stop in December 2018 after what MSF Sea described as “sustained attacks on [its] search and rescue [operations] by European states.”

Once again, instead of allowing the crew to safely carry the rescued to a safe port — as international maritime law requires all sea captains to do — Italy, Malta and the European Union made every effort to prevent the Ocean Viking, and other ships of the civil migrant rescue fleet, from doing so.

Bowman had been on board the Ocean Viking since the beginning. She spoke to me right after disembarking for the first time in over three weeks.

“We’ve seen people who have wounds from melted plastic that has been burnt onto their skin. We had people who were made to call their families to ask for money while they were having physical violence inflicted upon them.

“I can only begin to imagine how devastating that must be to have your brother, your sister, your child on the phone, hearing them going through that pain and not being able to do anything.

“When I actually get a chance to sit and think about what it is that I have experienced with these people, I’m not entirely sure how easily I’ll be able to reconcile the fact that Europe is allowing this to continue and that we are demonising the people who are doing the work to save these people.”

A lone life jacket floats in the Mediterranean (Pic: Hannah Wallace Bowman)

The EU responded to the so-called “migrant crisis” in 2015 not with rescues but by launching an anti-human-trafficking naval mission called Eunavfor Med, which later became known as Operation Sophia. Though its primary mission was to stem the flow of migrants into Europe, the mission’s ships are estimated to have saved the lives of 45,000 migrants from a watery Mediterranean grave.

However, in April, after pressure from Italy’s then far-right … coalition government, the EU agreed to pull Operation Sophia’s SAR ships and increase funds to the so-called Libyan coastguard (LCG), which has been pushing refugees back to the war-torn country ever since.

“As it stands, Operation Sophia has placed all its emphasis on aerial assets,” Bowman says. “So they don’t have any rescue capacity, which means they can watch people from the sky and they can also direct interceptions.

“They can empower the LCG in order to intercept boats. But if they see a shipwreck, they’re pretty powerless to do anything.”

Worse, the Libyan coastguard and Operation Sophia do not collaborate with the civil fleet, even when their ships are in the vicinity of a boat in distress, Bowman says.

“When we’ve tried to contact the relevant authorities, they simply don’t respond. If they do pick up the phone, they don’t speak English, which is a requirement of your co-ordination centre.

“So we’re pretty alone out there. At least that’s what it feels like.”

The inhumanity of Europe’s handling the crisis was illustrated on September 20 when the Ocean Viking rescued 35 people in a wooden boat from waters within Malta’s search and rescue area.

The Maltese authorities later sent a vessel to the Ocean Viking to transfer the 35 people picked up in its waters but would not take in the 182 other refugees — including a newborn baby, several children and a pregnant woman — who the crew had saved just a few days before in Libyan waters.

“It was a really difficult moment. We had to explain the reason some people were allowed to get off and others weren’t was simply down this fairly arbitrary division in terms of search and rescue regions.

“We were really worried as to how people were going to respond. But I was incredibly impressed with the level of dignity that people received the news. I certainly wouldn’t have taken it as they did.

“Some of them took off to lay down and cry. Others just took themselves inside and had a quiet moment. It was a really sombre atmosphere on the ship.

“This decision really revealed the level to which this system is so entirely dysfunctional.”

Members of the Maltese Armed Forces take a group of migrants to a Maltese military ship in the Mediterranean Sea

Terrible as this situation was, and how utterly demoralising it must have been for the migrants left on board, it seems it wasn’t as bad as what happened in August on the Open Arms, a NGO migrant rescue ship operated by a Spanish charity.

The vessel went 19 days with close to 100 refugees crammed on board. Italy’s then interior minister Matteo Salvini’s stubborn refusal to allow the rescued into Lampedusa left the boat languishing for days within sight of land.

The charity’s founder Oscar Camps shared videos of the tense situation on board as arguments broke out between the crew, the Italian coastguard and the rescued people. In one clip, nine refugees throw themselves overboard in an attempt to either reach the island or end their own lives.

Eventually, after several emergency medical evacuations, an Italian court ordered the ship’s temporary seizure and brought the migrants to land.

“We also endured a very horrific standoff at the same time as the Open Arms incident,” Bowman reminds me.

At the time, the Ocean Viking was carrying 356 refugees and had also been denied a port of safety by Italy and Malta. Other EU nations ignored its calls for help.

“People were throwing themselves overboard on the Open Arms and we had people threatening to go on hunger strike.

“They were absolutely terrified that we were going to send them back to Libya. They were asking us every day what’s going to happen and where we were going. And we couldn’t tell them anything.

“We had to say we’re really sorry, we don’t know, we’re working as hard as we can, but we promise we won’t take you back to Libya.

“Fourteen days at sea waiting in very cramped conditions in the middle of the summer really pushes people to breaking point.

“These people had been through so much already. And they were now in a situation where they were being told once again that they’re not wanted, they’re not welcome, that people don’t see them as human beings.

“One of the things the crew wondered was how we got into this state. It was only a year ago that the Aquarius was prevented from entering a harbour for just a few days and the world took notice. And now we were weeks on end and it was just commonplace. It was the new normal.”

I ask Bowman how she feels about Europe’s handling of the crisis. She says the overriding emotion is one of sadness.

“We’ve literally just got off the ship, just touched ground for the first time in over three weeks. But for the people that we have rescued, their journey is not over.

“They’re entering into a context where there are a lot of misconceptions about who refugees, migrants and asylum-seekers are. The asylum system process they’re about to go through is incredibly arduous.

“The fact remains that no-one knows how many people, as I speak to you now, are trying to make that journey across the central Mediterranean. We know it’s the deadliest migratory route in the world, but we don’t really know exactly how deadly it is.

“On this last rotation, we had a family: a father, mother and four kids, who’d been detained in Libya. They tried to make the crossing twice previously and had been intercepted by the LCG and forced back into detention.

“They had been treated by MSF while they were in detention, which they were incredibly grateful for because they said there were other people who weren’t as fortunate, who lost children.

“They told me this was their last attempt. They said: ‘Look, we don’t even know what we would have done. Honestly, if we hadn’t made it, then we would rather have been dead in the water. At least then it would be over. At least then we would be able to rest.’

“I understand that is really difficult for people to put themselves in the shoes of an individual for whom their reality is so incredibly removed from their own. But I think we’ve gotten to a point where we’re so lacking in a sense of shared humanity. What world are we creating? Where are we heading?”

Children wave at a boat from aboard the Ocean Viking as it reaches the port of Messina, Italy

It sometimes feels like we’re heading towards a kind of eco-fascism, comes my response. As our ecosystems are increasing devastated by climate change, I worry that it will be those forced to flee from the worst effects that will bear the brunt of, and the blame for, climate destruction.

“We can just keep building the walls higher,” Bowman says, “but they can only go so high.

“Unless we really address the root causes as to why it is these people are forced onto the move, unless we address the situation in Libya and provide legal options in order that they can escape, then nothing is going to change and we’re still going to be a necessity in the central Mediterranean Sea.

“The very organisations, the very people who are simply trying to do the job that Europe has left by removing its search and rescue capacity are also now the organisations and individuals that are being singled out as criminals.”

With alt-right poster boy Salvini no longer in government, perhaps things could change for the civil migrant rescue fleet. Indeed, late last month the governments of Malta, Italy, France and Germany met in Valletta and agreed to set up “regulations for a temporary emergency mechanism” to help Italy and Malta deal with the crisis — note the word “temporary”.

Bowman says it’s too early to tell if any of this will have a positive effect, but she does hold out hope for the future. She says she has to.

“If I didn’t believe we have the possibility to shift the way people see what we do and the way that we deal with one another as humans, I wouldn’t be doing the job that I do.

“The situation now is quite literally leaving people to die at sea. It’s leaving people with a totally impossible choice whereby they are having to decide between staying where they are and suffering or risking their lives at sea.

“I feel the shift will come from civil society, from people once again embracing what it means to be a human being with shared responsibility, with community, with compassion.

“I have to believe that things could be different. And I believe that part of that change comes from people having the tools to understand the reality that is playing out there.”

Hannah Wallace Bowman is a communications manager for MSF.

The Civil Fleet

SINCE the EU abandoned its search and rescue missions in the central Mediterranean sea in April, a number of NGOs have stepped up to do the humanitarian work Europe should be doing.

These NGO migrant rescue ships have become known as the civil fleet. Here is a brief rundown of the most active ships in the central Mediterranean since April 2019.

Ocean Viking: Operated by French charities SOS Mediterranee and Doctors Without Borders, this ship has saved up to 650 lives since April. It returned to sea on Thursday.

Alan Kurdi: This ship, named after the Syrian Kurdish boy who was found dead on a Turkish beach, is operated by the German Charity Sea Eye. It has saved around 182 lives. The charity is currently raising funds to return to sea. You can donate here.

Alex: Operated by the Italian charity Mediterranea Saving Humans, this ship saved 54 people in July. The Alex is still being held by the Italian authorities after it docked in Lampedusa.

Mare Jonio: Also operated by Mediterranea Saving Humans, the Mare Jonio has saved the lives of 106 refugees in August. The ship has also been siezed in Italy.

Sea Watch III: Operated by German charity Sea Watch, this ship has saved the lives of roughly 117 people since April. The boat has remained in the hands of the Italian authorities since June when Captain Carola Rackete disembarked 52 migrants in Lampedusa in defiance of Matteo Salvini.

Open Arms: Operated by the Spanish NGO Open Arms, the ship has saved 124 lives in August. The ship set sail again for the central Mediterranean on October 2.

Eleonore: Operated by German charity Mission Lifeline. The ship has saved 104 lives in August. The Elenore has been seized by the Italian authorities in Sicily since it finished its last mission on September 2.

Dutch government deports Afghan refugee to war


This 2015 Associated Press video says about itself:

Report criticises US for failing to investigate Afghan civilian deaths

The US failed to properly investigate civilian killings, including possible war crimes, which occurred during its military operations in Afghanistan, the international rights group Amnesty International claimed on Monday.

A toughly-worded report by the group focused on 10 incidents between 2009 and 2013 that it said saw 140 civilians killed during US military operations.

Amnesty said the vast majority of family members it interviewed said they had never been interviewed by US military investigators.

Most of the incidents involved airstrikes and night raids carried out by US forces.

Both tactics have sparked heated criticism from Afghan civilians and the government who say the US doesn’t take enough care to prevent civilian deaths.

Two of the cases – one in Paktia province in 2010 and another in Wardak province from November 2012 to February 2013 – involved “abundant and compelling evidence of war crimes,” the report said.

Nicola Duckworth from Amnesty International told a news conference in Kabul that they needed to “ensure that justice and accountability were obtained with the victims now and they are not simply issues that are confined as a legacy of past.”

Qand Agha, a former detainee,claimed that US special forces had killed people in front of his very eyes.

Translated from Dutch NOS TV today:

An Afghan asylum seeker who has worked as an interpreter for the United States army for thirteen years is in danger of being deported by the Netherlands to Afghanistan. Pro-refugee organisation Vluchtelingenwerk wants the man to stay here because he would be in great danger in Afghanistan; he is in the crosshairs of the Taliban and ISIS.

The Immigration and Naturalization Service (IND) acknowledges that the man worked as an interpreter for foreign troops in Afghanistan, but that is not enough to be allowed to stay in the Netherlands. “The IND asks for something more. You have to prove that you are being searched for specifically and that is of course very difficult,” says Jan van der Werff of Vluchtelingenwerk.

Honduran scholar Lety Elvir Lazo, anti-dictatorship refugee


This Spanish language video says about itself (translated):

Interview with Vida Luz Meneses, Lety Elvir and Laura Zavaleta, participants in the Voces de mujer [Voices of women] cycle in Central American literature, which was held in Casa de América on November 15-17, 2011.

From Leiden University in the Netherlands, 23 September 2019:

Scholar at Risk Lety Elvir Lazo: ‘My university intimidated me too’

The proceeds of the Leiden University Science Run on 28 September will go to Scholars at Risk, a section of the UAF that assists refugee scholars. One such scholar is Leiden PhD candidate Lety Elvir Lazo from Honduras.

Lety Elvir Lazo spent 20 years working as a lecturer and author in Honduras. She now has a PhD scholarship from Scholars at Risk (SAR) and works at the Leiden University Centre for Arts in Society. She is conducting research into Central-American literature written by women in the period 1992-2002. That is one of the many post-war periods that Honduras has known; in Honduras, democracy and dictatorship have been following each other in succession for a long time already. Elvir also looks at how women are depicted in the context of failed revolutions and uprisings and increasing neoliberalism and globalisation in Central America.

Why did you flee Honduras?

‘There was a coup in June 2009, which resulted in a dictatorship. This dictatorship is involved in corruption, drug trafficking, election fraud and giving away natural resources to multinationals. I left Honduras because I was threatened, persecuted and monitored by groups and people who were part of the repressive state apparatus and/or paramilitaries.

‘In Honduras, there are death squads that abduct, torture and murder people if they are suspected of belonging to the opposition. The same is true for environmental and human rights activists. Even more painful was that I also fell victim to political persecution at the university where I had worked for 20 years. A few months before I left Honduras, my colleague Héctor Martínez Motiño, who like me was harassed and intimidated by the university administration, was killed with 12 bullets at the entrance to the university.’

How did you come into contact with SAR and how did you end up in the Netherlands and then Leiden?

‘I came to the Netherlands at the end of 2015, as writer in residence at the invitation of the city of Amsterdam and the Dutch Foundation for Literature. I write stories, poems and literary essays.

Then somebody told me about the UAF programme that helps threatened university lecturers and academics: SAR. SAR protects researchers whose life, freedom and wellbeing are under severe threat. It is a place of refuge for threatened academics, and an international network of higher education institutions that arrange for temporary research and teaching positions within this network as well as offering advice.

‘Later on, the UAF-SAR provided me with a scholarship, and Leiden University gave me the opportunity to do PhD research at the Faculty of Humanities. To be closer to the University, I moved to Leiden in 2019.

‘I have now experienced what the UAF-SAR can mean. You feel solidarity within the network of supporting universities – such as Leiden University, which opens its doors to people who need space to work, write, think and express ourselves in freedom. Space in which we can keep in touch with our subject and can continue to be of use by sharing our experience and above all living out our passion for free scholarship.’

Do you hold out any hope of returning to your own country?

‘At the moment it’s really dangerous. There’s no guarantee that you’ll survive under the present dictatorship, which, unfortunately, is supported by governments such as that of Trump. They prefer to see my country being governed by politicians who are involved in drug trafficking than by governments that are truly democratic. Of course I, like birds, turtles and most refugees, want to return to my homeland: I miss my family; I miss everything, except the violence. Luckily, I can develop in peace here, in freedom and without fear. That’s a real relief. I wish it were like that in my homeland.’

What is it like doing research in Leiden in comparison with in your homeland? And how do you find the Dutch?

‘The main difference is that can devote myself almost fulltime to my research in an environment in which there is no bullying. In Honduras, it was difficult to obtain a research budget if you didn’t say what the university administration wanted to hear. In practice, there is no freedom of education in Honduras, no freedom of expression and no freedom of research.

‘Having lived in the Netherlands for a number of years, I still can’t say with any certainty what the people are really like here. I have the general impression that they are open and very sociable, although they sometimes face the dilemma of whether they should be open to immigration. After all, we stand for the other, and that is often seen as something different, disruptive and even threatening.

‘However, there are two things that I know without a shadow of a doubt: first, you don’t leave your homeland if you are being treated decently and your human rights are being respected. Second, there is a complicit silence among governments and international organisations about the neocolonial genocide against the population of Honduras. And also about how Hondurans, who, under threat of violence, flee to survive only to come up against walls of stone, water and documents. They often have to take perilous routes that are controlled by criminals or they end up in the immense prisons and cemeteries that the countries in the funnel of Central to North America have become. If you invest money or have economic interests in the area, from an ethical, moral and humanitarian perspective you bear a big responsibility to contribute to a solution and to end the war, the foreign interventions plundering our assets and the suffering of our courageous peoples who continue to fight for their health and happiness.’

Why should people take part in the Leiden Science Run or donate to the Scholars at Risk programme?

‘Because people who are critical thinkers and democratically minded are entitled to express their thoughts everywhere, not just on campus, without being intimidated, persecuted, vilified, imprisoned or murdered. If the academic world says nothing, if universities are not a place for free speech, research and solutions to national and international problems, universities don’t serve a single purpose. Then they are neglecting their duty. And if we allow voices of protest to be stifled or punished, we allow hope to fade and democracy to die. Then the world, of which we only have one, becomes a hell instead of our home. And happiness is possible for no one. That is why we need to rise up for the freedom of expression and freedom of thought of everyone.’

Australians stop right-wing goverment’s refugee family deportation


Sri Lankan refugee family thanking supporters in Biloela, Australia (Credit: @HometoBilo)

By Oscar Grenfell in Australia:

Australian government seeks to deport Tamil refugee family to Sri Lanka

30 August 2019

In a major attack on democratic rights, Border Force agents, acting under instruction from the federal Coalition government, bundled a family of Tamil refugees onto a plane late last night to dispatch them to Sri Lanka.

The police-state style operation was only halted in the early hours of the morning after lawyers for the family secured a last-minute federal court injunction, temporarily blocking their deportation. A hearing of the Federal Circuit Court in Melbourne today granted a further injunction until 4.00 p.m. next Wednesday. The order, however, reportedly only covers the youngest of the two children, meaning that the threat of the family’s imminent return to Sri Lanka, where they face state persecution, remains.

Lawyers for the family, and their supporters, outlined the brutal actions of immigration authorities in comments to the media.

On Thursday, the husband and wife, Nadesalingam and Priya, were reportedly given two “Notices of Intention to Remove from Australia” for themselves and their daughters, Kopika, who is just four-years-old, and Tharunicaa, who is only two.

In the evening, Border Force agents at the Melbourne detention centre where the family has been held since March 2018 forced them into a van that took them to Tullamarine Airport. The family was then bundled onto a non-commercial flight bound for Sri Lanka.

Priya’s arm was injured when she was forced onto the plane. She was then separated on the flight from her two infant children. They were only taken off the plane when it landed in Darwin to refuel after the injunction was secured last night.

The government’s attack on the family has provoked broad opposition. The attempted deportation was doubtless timed late at night, to prevent protests and other actions.

Despite this, some 50 supporters of the family gathered at the airport within hours of the news that they had been taken from the Melbourne detention centre. Australian Federal Police arrested two women, after they allegedly breached an airport perimeter fence in a desperate bid to block the flight.

This morning, four of the top five Australian hashtags on Twitter were in defence of the family. They included demands that they be allowed to remain in Australia and condemnations of the government.

The hashtag #hometobilo, calling for the family to be returned to the Queensland country town of Biloela, where they were snatched by immigration authorities last year, was the most popular in Australia throughout the morning.

Angela Fredericks, a Biloela resident and campaigner for the family’s freedom, told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s Radio National this morning: “People in Biloela are in absolute disbelief at the cruelty that occurred last night. The messages I’m getting is people’s disgust at what Australia as a country is doing.”

The government has responded to the outrage by doubling-down on its plans to force the family to Sri Lanka. Speaking on Channel Nine’s “Today” program this morning, Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton callously declared: “I would like the family to accept that they are not refugees, they’re not owed protection by our country.”

The government line is a continuation of its 18-month persecution of the family. On March 5, 2018, at around 5.00 a.m., Border Force officers, police and private Serco guards raided the family’s Biloela home. They dragged the infant children out of bed and gave their parents just 10 minutes to pack before they were taken to an airport and flown to a detention centre in Melbourne, over 1,600 kilometres away.

Residents of the town immediately began a campaign in defence of the family, launching petitions, holding demonstrations and winning mass public support. They noted that Nadesalingam and Priya were highly-respected members of the community, where they had lived and worked for years. The petition they initiated has been signed by more than 200,000 people.

The response was a damning refutation of the claims, incessantly peddled by the political establishment and sections of media, that the bipartisan assault on refugees is supported by workers in rural Australia. The sentiments in Biloela are mirrored in numerous country towns and regional centres, where Australian citizens and immigrants work side by side and confront escalating assaults on their jobs and social conditions.

Despite the widespread support for the family, they have been denied the most basic rights to health care. Last month, four of Tharunicaa’s teeth were surgically removed, and another four were treated, because they had become rotten.

Her mother Priya had complained for months that the two-year-old child was in pain and had been unable to eat solid foods due to her untreated dental conditions. Because of the neglect by the authorities, the baby will spend the next five years without any front teeth, until her adult set begins to grow.

At the same time, a succession of courts refused to uphold the family’s refugee status, claiming that it would be safe for them to return to Sri Lanka.

These assertions are transparently false. Nadesalingam and Priya fled Sri Lanka and came separately to Australia by boat in 2012 and 2013. They sought refuge in the wake of the Sri Lankan government’s almost three-decade communal war against the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). The war concluded in 2009 with the mass murder of Tamil civilians and the imposition of military-rule in the country’s north. Tamil workers and youth continue to be threatened and imprisoned by the police and the security services.

In April the Sri Lankan government imposed a state of emergency that abrogated basic democratic rights following Islamist terrorist attacks on Easter Sunday. These police-state measures are continuing. Amid mounting social tensions, the Colombo political establishment is feverishly seeking to whip-up communal antagonisms.

Other Tamil asylum-seekers who have been returned by Australia to Sri Lanka have faced detention and state persecution, forcing many into hiding. Given the prominence of their case, moreover, Nadesalingam and Priya will inevitably be targeted if they are returned to Sri Lanka. There is every likelihood that the government will make an example of them to intimidate others who are considering applying for asylum. …

What is required is the development of a movement of the entire working class against the reactionary framework of “border protection”, which is used to divide workers along national lines and divert attention from the cause of the deepening social crisis: the capitalist system.

In a deliberately punitive move, immigration authorities transported the family from Darwin, where the flight bound for Sri Lanka had landed, to the offshore Christmas Island detention centre in the Indian Ocean, north of the Australian mainland. The facility was re-opened by the Coalition government earlier this year although there are no other refugees detained there: here.

Australia: Stop the deportation of the Biloela refugee family! Here.