September 06, 2013
As Australians flock to polling booths on Saturday, Ruby Selva will probably be giving birth to a son or daughter.
But the pregnancy has not been easy for the 30-year-old Sri Lankan Tamil asylum seeker. After almost a year in overcrowded detention centres at Christmas Island, Manus Island and on the mainland, she and her husband, Ganesh, 35, were released into the community about six weeks ago.
Like more than 21,000 others, they are now living among us on bridging visas. Authorities placed them in transitional housing in Sydney, but they moved to Melbourne to be closer to the families with whom they bonded on the rickety and unseaworthy boat for the journey from Indonesia to the Cocos Islands.
Last week, they moved in to a rental property in the city’s west. While grateful to be living in their own home rather than still being ”locked in a prison”, as they put it, there was no bed, heater or much else when they moved in. Nor did they have any baby goods for the pending arrival.
On a combined $54 a day from the federal government – which equates to 89 per cent of the nation’s lowest dole payment – they also wondered how they would afford anything once rent, bills and food were paid.
But the Tamil Refugee Council stepped in after learning about their plight, just as the volunteer organisation did with another pregnant Iranian asylum seeker couple whose story was revealed in The Sunday Age earlier this year.
A bed and heater arrived about 2am on Thursday to enable Ruby to get some rest ahead of her September 7 due date.
”We are very, very grateful,” Ganesh said through an interpreter.
A friend contacted the charity for help, and there are more items are on the way this weekend. But the Selvas are not complaining. They fled their homeland after more than 40,000 Tamil’s were killed in the final stages of the civil war in 2009.
Ganesh’s sister was killed, and Ruby’s legs still bear shrapnel scars. ”We always think about what happened and now we worry about what’s going to happen to us here,” she said.
Ganesh added: ”We don’t know what is going to happen after the election, because we can’t go home, and we have nowhere else to go. The army has taken our land and our home.
”If we are deported back we will be jailed, and the jails are not like Australian detention centres. We will be tortured every day, and people who have fled get targeted. We’re better off dying in Australia than facing all of the problems we faced before.”
They do not even have a fridge to store food and the nearest store is a 30 minute walk away. ”We are spending most of our money on bus tickets because we have to buy food each day because we can’t keep it cold anywhere,” Ganesh added.
Ruby said she was relieved her husband was still by her side considering rumours that pregnant asylum seekers on Christmas Island will be separated from their partners until after their babies are born.
The Refugee Action Coalition claims up to 50 pregnant women will be sent to Darwin Airport Lodge detention centre until after they give birth, because the medical services are not available on the island.
”We would be very worried if they split us up,” Ruby said. ”It’s in our culture for the husband to be present at the birth so we would be very scared to go through it all alone. I’m sure others would feel the same way.”
Pamela Curr, from the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, said treatment of people who have come to us for help was ”disgraceful.”
”We should be ashamed of ourselves that we are allowing such vulnerable people to be treated so appallingly,” she said. ”What is wrong with us?”
Ganesh described Australians as ”very good people” and even credited the Federal government and Opposition as ”nowhere near as bad as the Sri Lankan government.”
”We want Australian people to vote for someone who will allow refugees to stay in this country,” he said. ”We are good people and we hope to stay here forever.”