Keli and Mere Ravula call Murray Bridge home – and fear what deportation could mean
A Fijian couple who have lived in Australia for 11 years worry their safety will be put at risk unless our incoming Immigration Minister grants them residency here.
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A Murray Bridge couple fear they will face imprisonment or torture if the Department of Home Affairs deports them to Fiji in the coming weeks.
Keli and Mere Ravula have called Australia home for the past 11 years.
They fled the island nation of their birth in 2011, five years after a military coup which was staunchly opposed by the Methodist Church.
Mr Ravula – a lay preacher in the church – said some of his colleagues in ministry had been taken away to police stations or military camps.
“Once you talk about the government, the military will come and arrest you and take you to the military camp, and they torture you there, and some died,” he said.
His situation was made more difficult by the fact that he also worked as a prison guard.
He had tried to stop the mistreatment of Methodist prisoners, but the other guards had turned their suspicions on him.
“I used to tell them, ‘those people have been given punishment only from the court, so we’re here to care for them’, but … they don’t listen,” he said.
“They tell me, ‘Who you are? You work for this government, you do what the government says.’
“That’s why it’s a fear for us to go back, because all these people are still running the government.”
Frank Bainimarama, the former Commander of the Republic of Fiji Military Forces who led the 2006 coup and appointed himself acting Prime Minister, is still in charge.
However, his political party – Fiji First – has since won two elections, giving his government an air of legitimacy.
Australia’s government strongly condemned the coup at the time, but resumed a working relationship with Fiji and lifted all travel restrictions in 2014.
Still, Mr Ravula said he would not feel safe if he and his wife were sent back.
“The court, they say Fiji is alright, but the reality, no,” he said.
The Ravulas applied for permanent Australian residency in 2016, but that application and two appeals were all knocked back by the former Department for Immigration, then by the Administrative Affairs Tribunal.
Only the personal intervention of Australia’s new Immigration, Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs Minister – Andrew Giles – can now keep the couple from being detained or deported in mid-June.
‘Their Christian faith is a key part of who they are’
Murray Bridge News spoke with the Ravulas after a service at Murray Bridge Uniting Church on Sunday.
Mr Ravula sat, engrossed in a deep conversation, while Mrs Ravula cleared away teacups and handed out slices of cake.
Uniting Church minister Darren Lovell said the couple had made a significant contribution to the community they now called home.
Both worked on farms, at a time when farm workers were hard to find; both had volunteered as fireground cooks during major bushfires; and Mrs Ravula also volunteered with Meals on Wheels and the Salvation Army.
Mr Lovell believed they were entitled to protection in Australia.
“After 11 years in Australia, I don’t know how you could send them back,” he said.
“Australia loses, they lose – I just can’t see any benefit in sending them back.”
Church members have organised a petition which calls on the Immigration Minister to intervene.
“Having lived here for over 10 years, they have displayed willingness to participate in church and community life, doing much voluntary work,” the petition says.
“Now in full employment, they are working in positions which many Australians refuse to take up.
“They are much appreciated and respected within their working environments and community.”
It remains to be seen whether Mr Giles will show the same appreciation.
Sign the petition: Visit www.change.org; Murray Bridge Uniting Church, at 1 Narooma Boulevard; or Murray Bridge News, at 16 Sixth Street, before June 15.
Editor’s note: This story was updated on June 1, noting the appointment of Andrew Giles as Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs.
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