Story of Jack

Sri Lanka

In 2009, Jack* fled Sri Lanka in what the federal court of Australia described as an “extraordinary emergency.” There was a brutal civil war in his homeland, and Australia agreed it must protect him. Instead, he has been put in immigration detention for nearly 11 years after being caught in an obscure legal issue, and he is now potentially facing limitless incarceration. Jack is Sinhalese and belongs to the Catholic community, a minority community in Sri Lanka that was a prime target during the civil war.


He was kidnapped and mutilated by the Tamil Tigers due to his association with the opposition leaders. His business partner was later found dead. Jack also witnessed several other murders that the Tamil Tigers committed. In March of 2009, seeking to flee the steadily escalating violence in Sri Lanka, He and 31 others pooled their money to buy a small boat. They left the country on 31 March, arriving in Australian waters on 22 April. There were intercepted near Western Australia and then taken into immigration custody. He did not receive any profit even though he was the trip organizer.

Nevertheless, as the boat was registered in his name, in 2010, he was convicted of “organising the bringing of groups of non-citizens into Australia” and sentenced to five years in jail. His conviction was later quashed, but he spent eight years in a detention centre post that. He has not seen his family in more than a decade and has never met his son, who is now ten years old.


Australia’s immigration assessment authority found that Australia legally owed him refugee status because if he were to return to Sri Lanka, he would likely be imprisoned, with a “strong likelihood” he would suffer “serious physical mistreatment including torture.” Thus, Australia cannot legally return him to Sri Lanka. Additionally, the government was negligent and leaked his details online, potentially further endangering him. When Jack finally applied for a haven visa, Immigration minister David Coleman rejected it on the grounds of the previous conviction and that Jack did not pass the character test, which is a provision of the Migration Act. Furthermore, he stated that he had reason to suspect that Jack was involved in people smuggling. That decision was challenged in the federal court in February 2020, and the court ordered that the minister reassess his decision and give more weight to Jack’s claim.


*name changed

Written by Rethinking Refugees

Representative photo used

Story of Jack