Pro Bono Story

Victim of torture settles in UK: Thiraviyarajah’s story

Thiraviyarajah's story

Thiraviyarajah is a Tamil who was persecuted and tortured in his home country of Sri Lanka. He attempted to seek sanctuary in Australia in 2013 but was captured trying to enter the country.

Thiraviyarajah was held for years in various detention centres, eventually ending up on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea. This particular detention centre was reported to have appalling conditions, and a huge self-harm and suicide rate among the refugees held there.

As a result of his ordeal, he suffered from serious mental health problems, lacking access to the appropriate specialist medical care he needed. Despite being recognised as a refugee by the UN, he was caught in limbo and there seemed to be no end to his plight until a skilful international pro bono collaboration offered the lifeline he needed.

Thiraviyarajah had a sister in the UK who was happy to look after and support him. With co-operation between an Australian support worker and a small high-street firm in London called MTC Solicitors in London his application to enter the UK was based on the adult dependent relative route.

Naga Kandiah of MTC Solicitors was referred by the UNCHR High Commission office (Geneva) to the Australian human rights worker who was supporting detainees in Manus Islands.

At first, his visa application was refused on the basis that he did not have a valid passport, but his legal team of both solicitors and barristers from MTC Solicitors (including Naga Kandiah and Kim Renfrew) eventually succeeded on appeal to the First-tier Tribunal on Article 8 grounds (ADR), and he was granted leave to enter.

In 2019, he finally travelled to London to be reunited with his sister and brother-in-law. The perseverance of his pro bono legal team had triumphed and Thiraviyarajah was given a chance to receive the care he so needed to begin a new life with his family. In April 2022, MTC Solicitors successfully applied for indefinite leave to remain in the UK on his behalf.

In spite of having years of experience working with victims of torture and being a victim of the Tamil genocide and witness to war crimes himself, this was one case that moved Naga to tears. This case shows how severe the impact of immigration detention can be on a human being and how such forms of detention are a form of mental torture. As a result of his detention in a third-party country where he tried to seek safety and peace, Thiraviyarajah now has severe PTSD and depression and has been unable to overcome his suicidal thoughts and impulses. He is still receiving counselling and support from Naga on a pro bono basis, years after his ordeal.

Naga and others fear that the Rwandan offshore detention facility will only be a repeat of the dreadful, inhumane and torturous Manus Island and that more pro bono legal work will be required in the future.