Protest on plane backing Lankan Refugee

A Qantas flight from Melbourne to Darwin was disrupted when passengers refused to buckle their seatbelts in protest at the attempted deportation of a Tamil asylum seeker by immigration authorities, the Sydney Morning Herald reported.

Qantas confirmed a “number of passengers” on QF838 became disruptive when they refused sit down and follow cabin crew instructions on Monday morning’s flight.

The 25-year-old Tamil man, Puvaneethan, was being deported to Sri Lanka after the Refugee Review Tribunal found him not to be a refugee. He has been living in Australia since 2012.

“After boarding QF838 in Melbourne a number of passengers became disruptive. The passengers refused to follow cabin crew instruction so were offloaded and met by the AFP,” a Qantas spokeswoman told Fairfax Media.

“The issue has since been resolved with the flight departing approximately 50 minutes later.”

The Sydney Morning Herald said that the passenger and protester Jasmine Pilbrow, who visits detention centres in Melbourne, said she encouraged two other people to stand up on the plane.

“I refused to sit down until he was taken off the flight,” the 21-year-old said. “If he is sent back to Sri Lanka he is likely to be imprisoned and tortured.”

images (1)Ms Pilbrow said the flight was “quite full” and a number of other passengers began clapping when the Australian Federal Police boarded the plane to remove the protesters and the Tamil asylum seeker.

“They were happy we were being taken off,” she said.

Refugee activists had arrived in Melbourne earlier to hand out flyers to passengers boarding the flight, saying the man would be tortured if he was returned to Sri Lanka, via Darwin.

Fairfax Media has approached the AFP for comment. It is unknown whether the man being deported was forced back onto the plane after he was removed with the protesters.

This is the second incident of passengers refusing to take a seat in protest of the Department of Immigration and Border Protection’s forced deportations.

In late December about eight passengers on board an Air China flight refused to sit down until a handcuffed and escorted Chinese asylum seeker was removed from the flight.

Wei Lin, 41, who is now in the Villawood Immigration Detention Centre, said without the protesters he would have been returned to China.

“They are determined to get me back to China,” Mr Lin said.

It remains government policy that any asylum seeker not found to be a refugee is returned to their country of origin. (Colombo Gazette)