The Tamil Refugee Council is demanding answers about the fate of a Tamil refugee who was last night handcuffed and removed from his room at the Broadmeadows detention centre (Melbourne Immigration Transit Accommodation).

“We had been in contact with Santharuban every two hours yesterday,” said Aran Mylvaganam, Tamil Refugee Council spokesperson.

“But we lost contact after 5pm. We have been told by detainees in the centre that Santharuban was handcuffed and taken from his room at about 9pm. They say that he resisted, but was overwhelmed. His belongings were also removed. Now we have no idea where he is.”

A vigil, begun yesterday evening, is ongoing at the centre this morning.

Santharuban is subject to a deportation notice, scheduled to be enforced tomorrow after the UN Committee against Torture, at the request of the Australian government, lifted an interim measure request that he not be returned to Sri Lanka.

It remains unclear why the UN lifted the measure. Santharuban, who fled Sri Lanka by boat in 2012, is a former member of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. He has a well founded fear of persecution if returned – former Tamil Tigers are routinely harassed, interrogated and worse by Sri Lankan security forces.

“Santharuban was under enormous stress, suffered depression and was experiencing suicidal thoughts,” Mylvaganam said. “We are desperate to know what is going on. Has he self-harmed and been taken to a hospital? Is he being held in another section of the centre? Has he been deported?

“We need to get in touch with Santharuban. The government should guarantee him access to a phone so that he can tell us, tell his lawyer and tell the world what is going on and where he is.

“We don’t know if he has been assaulted. We don’t know if he is en route to Sri Lanka to be handed over to the brutal security forces, if he remains in Broadmeadows, or if he is somewhere in between.

“The situation is urgent. There is too much secrecy.”

The Tamil Refugee Council is calling on the UN to:

• Reinstate the interim measure to halt Santharuban’s deportation

The Tamil Refugee Council is calling on the Australian government to:

• Disclose the whereabouts of Santharuban and give him access to a phone

• Withdraw its notice of intention to deport Santharuban
Gillian Blair, Tamil Refugee Council