By Alexandra Kirk
Updated Mon 16 Jun 2014, 8:23pm AEST
The Tamil asylum seeker who died recently after setting himself alight will be buried in Australia later this week without any of his family being allowed to attend his funeral.
Immigration Minister Scott Morrison offered to send Leo Seemanpillai’s body back to Sri Lanka or India, but his family says that would only cause the family more grief as they fear being targeted at a funeral in either country.
The Immigration Department has denied Mr Seemanpillai’s brother a visa to visit Australia because it doubts he “genuinely” intends to stay temporarily.
Mr Seemapillai’s funeral will be held in Geelong on Wednesday without his parents or siblings being able to pay their last respects.
His immediate family has lived in a refugee camp in India for more than two decades since fleeing Sri Lanka in 1990.
Mr Seemapillai’s parents do not have travel documents, making it difficult to obtain a visa, but younger brother Ezekeil does have a passport.
“I feel really, really sad. I mean, I can’t understand it. How am I not allowed to be at the last funeral rites of my brother?” Ezekeil Seemanpillai said.
The Immigration Department says Mr Seemanpillai is unemployed, has no savings, is unskilled and as such is in a state of “financial disadvantage”.
It added he had overstayed his visa in India, considering that a breach of immigration law and concluding he may “consider it unimportant to abide by immigration laws”.
A letter from the Immigration Department to Mr Seemanpillai says: “You have stated that your purpose in visiting Australia is to attend your brother’s funeral.
“I do not doubt the sincerity of your desire to pay your last respects to your late brother, however, I consider that the assessment above – that you do not genuinely intend temporary stay in Australia – outweighs this consideration.”
Mr Seemanpillai said: “I have no desire to stay in Australia. My family is here, my mother and father are here. My prospects are here. I don’t want to be away from my family.”
Family tries without success to get visas
Aran Mylvaganam, from the Tamil Refugee Council, was with Leo Seemanpillai when he died and has been in close contact with the parents.
Mr Mylvaganam says the family went to the Australian High Commission in Chennai to try to get a visa.
“The Australian High Commissioner said that they need a travel document or a passport to come to Australia, so they asked them to go to the Sri Lankan High Commission,” Mr Mylvaganam said.
“The Sri Lankan High Commission said the parents would have to go back to Sri Lanka before they can come to Australia, and that was not an option for the family.”
The family then went to get help from the Tamil Nadu chief minister, who asked them to go to the Indian home minister, who did not respond.
The family then went to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees but were told they had no power to issue travel documents.
Sending body to India ‘would only make matters worse’
Mr Morrison offered to send Mr Seemanpillai’s body to Sri Lanka or India, but Ezekeil Seemanpillai says the family feared for its safety in either country and still wants Leo to be buried in Australia.
“There is no security for my family. My family is under a lot of pressure already from the media and from security agencies like the Q Branch,” he said.
“My dad and mum are scared as it is and they don’t need this kind of scrutiny and trouble. And bringing his body here would only make matters worse for them.”
Mr Mylvaganam says it is a disappointing outcome.
“As a Tamil living in Australia I’m very disappointed that our Government is not allowing this family to come here for this funeral,” he said.
“They’re only going to stay here temporarily for three weeks. I am very disappointed. Likewise, many members of the Tamil community are very disappointed with the Australian Government.
“The family is devastated by this news. I spoke to the father. He is in tears. He hasn’t told his wife and the siblings about the funeral date yet, so they’re all in tears.”
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