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Asylum-seeker returns with shattered dreams

By Chris Kamalendran-Sunday, April 26, 2015

'I have to start a new life I don't know where to start'
For the past two years, Vaithilingam Linagaraja, a fishermen from Kaddaikadu off
Elephant Pass in Jaffna, had been languishing in a refugee camp in Paula New
Guinea after his bid to illegally enter Australia failed.
Mr. Linagaraja last
week voluntarily
decided to return
home after
realising he had
no chance of
entering Australia.
I realised that I
had wasted two
years inside a
camp while my

Vaithilingam Linagaraja back home with family at Kaddaikadu off Elephant Pass in Jaffna. Pix by T. Premanath

family wife, four

children and two sisters were suffering back at home, he told the Sunday Times.
Id been determined to leave Sri Lanka at any cost, hoping for a better future for my
family and the education of my children, he said.
But now I have to start my life from zero. There is nothing left for me to hang on to.
When I think of my family, I dont know where to start I almost lost my whole life in

these last two years.

In March 2013, Mr. Linagaraja left for Batticaloa to meet a sub-agent who has been
arranging passage to Australia for those interested.
In Batticaloa he met the main agent, Niranjan. For the next four months he stayed in
different places in Batticaloa and then was moved to Colombo along with 12 others
wanting passage to Australia.
Towards the end of 2013 he and the other 12 people were taken to Hambantota in a
van. That same night, along with another batch of 26 people, they were boarded onto
an unseaworthy fishing trawler off the Hambantota coast. The trawler had a crew of
We had a heated argument with the crew about the danger of sailing while Navy
patrols were standing by a couple of kilometers away, Mr. Linagaraja said.
They told us that this business is happening with their help. One said, They are
helping us with a Navy torch that shows our route clearly.
It took us 24 days to reach Christmas Island. There were 10 children and six women
in the trawler. During the whole sea passage we had cunjee (rice soup) three times a
When the boat reached Christmas Island, an Australian territory
off the mainland, the Australian Navy surrounded the trawler and
boarded it.
We were questioned by the Australian Navy for several hours,
Mr. Linagaraja said. They gave us food, water bottles and
Vaithilingam Linagaraja: Hopes to


return to his old profession, fishing

In our boat there were 68 people, from Jaffna, Kilinochchi,

Mannar and Trincomalee. Of them, 44 were immediately deported to Sri Lanka.
After two years of detention on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea Mr. Linagarajas
plea to enter Australia as a refugee was rejected as his claims of persecution were not

held to be well-founded.
They decided to reject my plea after two years of suffering in the camp, he said.
When it was clear that I wont be allowed to Australia I decided to return. I gave a
letter to United Nations (UN) officials that if anything happened to me they would be
responsible for that.
The refugee camp on Manus Island was filled with 1600 asylum-seekers from various
countries such as Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Nepal, Bangaladesh, India, Sri Lanka, and
Africa, he said.
The detention camp has 20-foot fences surrounding the temporary shelters in which
the asylum-seekers were housed.
They put us in there and abused us not physically but mentally. Many have ended
up with mental problems. There are mentally unfit people are wandering round the
camp. Had I stayed a bit longer I would have ended up in a similar situation.
Mr. Linagaraja said medical facilities in the camp were poor. When an Iraqi national
injured his leg they gave the wrong medicines to him. He died in the following days
after being declared brain-dead. There was no one else to look after us. Around 25
persons died like this.
I thought that if I returned I would be able to spend my life with my children, so I
decided to return.
I have to start a new life for my family. I dont know where to start.
His family is still struggling to complete the construction of their house, which was
started with help from NGOs. His relations and other villagers lent a huge sum of
money for his passage and now he has no idea how to repay those debts. He paid
around Rs. 1 million to the agent for his passage to Australia.
Mr. Linagaraja registered with the International Organisation for Migration (IMO) before

he left Manus Island and will receive a Rs. 300,00 grant from the body to get back into
The debts he incurred to pay for his ill-fated voyage outweigh the IMO grant.
This is the price I paid for the dream to reach Australia, he said.
Mr. Linagaraja now hopes to return to his old profession, fishing. He needs to earn
enough not only to look after his family but also to pay back his loans.

Posted by Thavam