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Waiting in hope

Praying for a miracle: Tamil asylum seekers Elizabeth and Suji Sunderalingam with their baby Karistian at their shrine for morning prayers.

Praying for a miracle: Tamil asylum seekers Elizabeth and Suji Sunderalingam with their baby Karistian at their shrine for morning prayers.

By Paul Dobbyn

SRI Lankan husband-and-wife asylum seekers Elizabeth and Suji Sunderalingam, of Springfield, are praying for a miracle.

The Tamil couple, who are members of Our Lady of the Southern Cross Parish, recently became first-time parents and had their baby Karistian baptised there.

Now they are praying for Australian citizenship.

Parish priest Fr Mauro Conte said the parish was trying to support Elizabeth and Suji “as much as we can”.

“They’re a beautiful young couple and we’ve adopted them,” he said.

Joan and Nada Nadarajah are the young couple’s primary supporters.

The Nadarajahs have provided a rental house for the couple and several other Tamil asylum seekers to live in.

Mrs Nadarajah, who lives across the road from the couple, said they were devout.

“They collect fresh flowers from our garden in the morning to put in a shrine in their bedroom,” she said.

“Elizabeth and Suji pray every day their situation will improve.”

The young couple’s uncertain life on a bridging visa is part of a larger picture of increasingly harsh treatment of asylum seekers in Australia.

The Australian Government has deported more than 1000 Sri Lankan asylum seekers since August 2012.

The recent death of 29-year-old Tamil asylum seeker Leo Seemanpillai in Geelong is a reminder of the impact of this treatment.

The regular churchgoer at St Paul’s Lutheran Church died after setting himself on fire on May 31.

 He was the second Tamil asylum seeker to self-immolate in the past year – the first survived.

Using Mr Nadarajah as an interpreter, Mr and Mrs Sunderalingam outlined the circumstances which had led them to flee their home area in Sri Lanka’s troubled north and take a boat to Australia to seek asylum.

“Elizabeth was a kindergarten teacher and Suji owned a bus company with several buses running between Batticaloa and Colombo,” Mr Nadarajah translated.

“They married in Trincomalee, Elizabeth’s home area in June 2012.

“Years earlier, Elizabeth’s father, a member of a strong Catholic family, then living in Kerala in the country’s north, had been rounded up by the army with other Tamil people and murdered in a large stadium.

“In 2006, one of her nieces, only six years old, was abducted from school in an extortion attempt.

“She was later found gruesomely murdered. Her mutilated body was found in a gutter.”

Mr Nadarajah continued translating that Suji at one stage was captured by the paramilitary and harmed.

“His family borrowed heavily to pay ransom money and he was freed,” he said.

“Then not long after the couple married, one of Suji’s large passenger buses was shot up and badly damaged.

“Fearing further danger, they decided to flee the country by boat.

“They landed on the Cocos Islands; from there they were taken to Christmas Island where they spent three months.

“They were next taken to Inverbrackie detention centre in the Adelaide Hills.

“They arrived in Brisbane at the start of 2013 and stayed at a Buranda hotel used to house asylum seekers.”

Not long after this, the couple met Brisbane Dominican Father Pancras Jordan, himself a Tamil who works with asylum seekers in Australia from his home country.

“Fr Pan told me of their predicament,” Mrs Nadarajah said.

“I had already opened up our investment property to several young Tamil asylum seekers who were living in very unsatisfactory conditions.

“By then the St Vincent de Paul Society branch at Goodna had provided us with furniture and other household items.

“So I was able to invite Elizabeth and Suji to come and live near us as well.”

The Tamil community had been shaken by the death of the asylum seeker in Geelong, Mrs Nadarajah said.

“It’s no mystery why his death happened and more will follow,” she said.

“These people don’t want to go back to Sri Lanka where they’ve been threatened, tortured and had loved ones killed.

“I would say that 99 per cent of these people are not so-called ‘economic refugees’.

“It’s amazing, what you discover with these people when you scratch the surface … they’ve had fathers, mothers, uncles, sisters murdered … it’s terrible.

“And yet our government is sending them back … on planes back to danger in Sri Lanka.

“Some of these people finish up in the Negombo Prison.

“I heard of some men who were so badly beaten at this prison that when they were released none of their relatives could even recognise them.”

Mrs Nadarajah said the Australian Government’s policy on asylum seekers seemed to have stopped the boats coming.

“But you’ve got to treat the people who have reached here seeking asylum as human beings,” she said.

“This couple and many others like them are in limbo – they’re on bridging visas; their applications are not being processed.

“Yet it’s possible for the Australian community and these asylum seekers to be friends … it’s only the politics that gets in the way.”

Australia’s Catholic bishops recently made an urgent plea to the Federal Government to overturn its policies on refugees and for the Australian community to reject racist treatment of asylum seekers.

“The current policy has about it a cruelty that does no honour to our nation,” the 680-word statement said.

“Such a policy would be widely rejected if the faces and names were known.

“Bishops have seen the faces; we know the names; we have heard the stories.”

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