As Australian Border Protection agents tried to deport a Tamil family to Sri Lanka under the cover of darkness last night, the call went out on social media.
“Get down to Melbourne airport,” the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre tweeted just before 9pm.
The call to action was to save Queensland-based mum Priya, her husband Nadesalingam and their two young Australian-born children, Kopika and Tharunicaa, from being forcibly removed from the country.
“If you aren’t in Melbourne but you want to let Skytraders (who are apparently the charter plane company engaging in this blatant human rights violation) know what you think about this, there number is here,” NSW Greens MP Jenny Leong tweeted along with #hometobilo.
“Call Skytraders and ask them to have a heart, to not be complicit in sending a beloved family to almost certain persecution and torture,” another supporter wrote.
The emergency request for “boots on the ground” at Tullamarine was met by dozens of supporters. Lawyers, working behind the scenes, were granted an injunction preventing the deportation at the eleventh hour and the plane, which had already taken off, was forced to land in Darwin.
The efforts to save the Tamil family were immediately compared to those made by a solo Swedish activist who boarded a plane in July last year and, despite a heated argument with several passengers, managed to prevent authorities from deporting an asylum seeker from Afghanistan.
University student Elin Ersson made headlines around the world when she boarded the Turkish Airlines plane last July and recorded her protest live on Facebook.
The flight, from Gothenburg to Istanbul, was carrying the Afghan man who was being deported after serving a prison sentence.
“What I’m saying is I’m not going to sit down until this person is off the plane, because he will most likely get killed (if he is deported to Afghanistan),” she said.
“As long as he is not on the plane, I will comply. But I don’t want a man’s life to be taken away just because you don’t want to miss your flight.”
Ms Ersson, 21 at the time, was told by a steward to turn off the phone and sit down.
“You are not doing what you have to do on-board, okay,” he said, before other passengers got involved.
“You’re upsetting all the people down there so I don’t care what you think,” a male passenger told her. “What about all these children that you are frightening?”
The passenger tried to take Ms Ersson’s phone away before a flight attendant grabbed it and gave it back to her.
“He’s going to die,” she said.
“How do you know that?” a passenger asked her.
“Because it’s Afghanistan.”
The protest, which lasted several minutes, forced airline staff to remove Ms Ersson and the 52-year-old Afghan passenger. But he was eventually deported from Sweden.
In Melbourne last night, the father at the centre of the deportation attempt posted a video from on-board the flight.
The parents were for a time on Thursday separated from their children and “dragged against their will by Border Force officials on to a Skytraders plane,” according to Chris Breen of the Refugee Action Collective.
The family has received strong support from Australians with more than 200,000 people signing a Change.org online petition to prevent them from being sent back.
Priya and Nadesalingam came to Australia separately by boat in 2012 and 2013 fleeing violence following Sri Lanka’s civil war.
Justice Mordecai Bromberg’s ruling today prevents the family from being deported until 4pm on Wednesday. It gives lawyers time to work on a solution.
Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton says the family’s case has been before the High Court and their refugee status has been rejected.
But the minister does have the power to exercise discretion and let them stay.