Melbourne: Residents of a small Queensland town and their supporters have picketed the federal court in Melbourne asking for an asylum seeker family forcibly removed in a dawn raid to be allowed to return home.
The family are facing deportation to Sri Lanka but on Wednesday the federal court judge delayed her decision on their appeal.
The family of four had overstayed their bridging visa by one day when officers from the Australian Border Force, as well as police officers and Serco guards, arrived at their home at 5am in early March, taking them to immigration detention in Melbourne.
Priya and Nadesalingam were give 10 minutes to pack for themselves and their two Australian-born daughters – nine-month-old Dharuniga and two-year-old Kopika.
On Wednesday the judge adjourned to review the arguments before making her decision, and requested the federal home affairs department not to deport the family in the meantime, said a friend of the family, Angela Fredericks.
Outside the court, residents from the central Queensland town of Biloela and supporters gathered on the lawn, holding signs, cut-out pictures of cockatoos and photographs of the family.
“This family had integrated so well, they were our friends, they were our neighbours, they were part of our community,” said Fredericks. “Ever since they arrived Nade has put up his hand to work. He volunteered at St Vincent de Paul … Their two children were both born in Biloela, they are our people.”
She said the Border Force raid traumatised the family’s neighbours, who heard them screaming but were unable to help.
Fredericks said regardless of the court outcome, Biloela wanted the home affairs minister, Peter Dutton, to use his powers to allow the family to go back.
“Regardless of what happens in court, we are calling on Mr Dutton to exercise his discretionary powers to allow this family to return to their home in Biloela in time for Kopika’s third birthday on the 12 May,” she said.
Fredericks said she was “gravely concerned” for the family, and that Dharuniga was showing signs of stress “known to affect detained infants”.
“Little Kopika is too young to understand how far she is from home and asks constantly for her Biloela friends,” said Fredericks.
Supporters have vowed to step in if the appeal fails.
The Tamil Refugee Council spokesman Aran Mylvaganam said they were extremely concerned the family’s appeal would fail and they’d be deported.
“We are preparing to stop a potential deportation through other means,” he said. “All we know is the system is set to fail Tamil asylum seekers. We have seen a lot of Tamil cases fail.”
The family have previously said they were made to sign documents under duress in which they agreed to voluntary deportation.
Home affairs has previously been questioned on various allegations, but said the family’s asylum application had “been comprehensively assessed by the department, various tribunals and courts”.
“They have consistently been found not to meet Australia’s protection obligations.”
Nadesalingam and Priya arrived in Australia by boat, separately, in 2012 and 2013, after Sri Lanka’s violent and lengthy civil war. They married in 2014, and had two daughters.
Nadesalingam had links to the former separatist army, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, former members of which continue to be persecuted, according to human rights organisations.
The home affairs department has been contacted for comment.