Saivashini Jayakumar and her family boarded a boat bound for Australia fearing for their lives – desperate for protection.
But the initial relief of escaping persecution in Sri Lanka was short-lived.
Ms Jayakumar has lived with the exhausting uncertainty of a temporary protection visa for nine years.
The Brisbane woman said the success of the Home to Bilo campaign and the Labor Government’s promise to return the Nadesalingam family to central Queensland, could change everything.
Ms Jayakumar is a friend of the Tamil family who were removed from their central Queensland home and placed into immigration detention in March 2018.
The Department of Home Affairs has repeatedly said the Nadesalingam family’s case has been comprehensively assessed over many years, and they have consistently been found not to meet Australia’s protection obligations.
The family’s legal battle for protection has dominated headlines and polarised the public and politicians for four years.
After claiming victory in the federal election on Saturday night, Anthony Albanese will be sworn in as Australia’s 31st Prime Minister.
Priya, Nades, Kopika and Tharnicaa will leave community detention in Perth to return to central Queensland.
But what does their success mean for Ms Jayakumar, her husband Riswan Thajudean and other Tamil asylum seekers in Australia?
‘Big relief’ for some asylum seekers
Ms Jayakumar said the incoming Labor government’s policy means she, her sister who lives with disability, and her mother and father would be eligible for permanent protection visas after almost a decade on Temporary Protection Visas (TPVs).
The Asylum Seeker Resource Centre said TPVs are given to asylum seekers who are found to be in need of protection instead of a permanent protection visa – they last for three years.
Labor supports boat turn-backs and offshore processing centres, but it opposes the use of TPVs because it argues it keeps refugees in a state of limbo.
Under Operation Sovereign Borders, which has bi-partisan support, TPVs were no longer issued to asylum seekers who arrived by boat.
But many people who arrived before 2013 still hold TPVs and Labor has said they will be transitioned to more permanent settlement options.
“It means a big relief for us,” Ms Jayakumar said.
“We’re hoping for a good life for my sister, she could get support, all she needs.”
Ms Jayakumar said Labor’s victory provided “some certainty” for people in her situation.
“It’s a whole process and you don’t know what’s your future, you always think about what’s going to happen after three years – what’s going to happen?” she said.
“They can take a deep breath, I’m fine now, we’re going to be ok – we don’t have to be on hold in a loop again and again.”
She said removing the looming terror of returning to Sri Lanka marked a significant turning point.
“We get to live again,” Ms Jayakumar said.
Building momentum for change
Home to Bilo supporter Angela Fredericks was overcome with shock, disbelief and “a lot of tears” on election night.
“We were just always fighting for our friends and to actually have it turn into a mass campaign and media and social media – it was like nothing we were experienced with,” she said.
“Here we are four years later and it’s actually ending.”
Ms Fredericks hoped Priya and Nades’ brave decision to share their story with the public had helped the plight of others seeking protection.
“They’ve actually given people a glimpse of what it’s like for a Sri Lankan Tamil,” she said.
“Right from day one I remember talking to people about the UN, Amnesty International – all of these independent human rights groups who say Sri Lanka is not safe for Tamils.
“There are a lot of other Tamils here in Australia on temporary visas and what a Labor government means is that for a lot of them – they are actually going to get permanent safety.
“I know having walked with one beautiful Tamil couple, that is life changing.”
Labor’s policy does not go far enough, refugee council says
Tamil Refugee Council (TRC) spokesman Aran Mylvaganam said overall, Tamil refugees were relieved.
But he said the incoming government’s policy to provide permanent protection visas to temporary visa holders is not enough.
“Those on bridging visas, waiting for their cases to be heard, or have exhausted all the legal avenues – they are still facing deportation,” he said.
He said the rejection rates of Tamils applying for permanent protection visas in Australia, was among the highest of any ethnic group.
“That’s to do with the country report on Sri Lanka and Australia’s reluctance to acknowledge the human rights situation that exists in Sri Lanka,” he said.
A refugee himself, Mr Mylvaganam urged the government to provide certainty for every person who has sought protection.
“The process all refugees have been put through has been flawed,” he said.
“People have been put in a desperate situation where they can’t go back to their country, at the same time they can’t be with their family members, and that creates mental health issues.
“We want this uncertainty to come to an end, that’s our demand to the Labor government.”
Next steps for the Biloela family
The process of the Nadesalingam family’s return to Biloela will become clearer once a new Minister for Immigration is sworn in.
“This is the first time in four years where they actually get to choose how that happens,” Ms Fredericks said.
“They were taken from Bilo, they were forced from Melbourne, sent from Darwin, Christmas Island, they were medevaced and taken from there.
“This is actually going to be the first time that they get a say and they actually get to decide when they want to do it.
“They’ve got their power back.”