Before they were bundled onto a charter flight this morning, survivors of the crash made a direct appeal to Bowen to be allowed to remain in Sydney and not be sent back to immigration detention on the remote island.
In an open letter to the minister, the survivors described Christmas Island as "the place of nightmares and depression".
"We have lost loved ones in the most tragic of circumstances so close to the island that we hoped would offer protection to those who needed it so badly," they wrote.
"We are overcome with grief. Some have attempted suicide. Our suffering has been too much. Please allow us to stay in Sydney where there are families and community support to help put our lives back together."
The letter was signed by 16 survivors of the crash, who were among 21 flown to Sydney to bury their loved ones during a mass funeral organised by the Immigration Department on Tuesday, and by 14 of their relatives. Signatories include Hussein Husseini, Hussein and Mitra Shahvari, Mina Shahvri and Iman Foroutan, all survivors of the crash.
Activists for the Cross Border Collective delivered a copy of the letter to the minister during his speech at the Sydney Institute on Wednesday night, before being escorted out of the event to boos from the crowd, with one woman calling out, "children, it's time to go home". Sydney Institute director Gerard Henderson told them it was a private event and that "Playschool starts later".
Shen Narayanasamy, a spokesperson for the Cross Border Collective, told New Matilda the minister had no reason not to respect the wishes of the survivors.
"These are people who have suffered tremendous loss already. They are here in Sydney now, why at this point take the extreme step of flying them to a remote island thousands of kilometres away? It's expensive, it's traumatic for everyone involved, and it simply makes no sense."
But the appeal was fruitless and survivors are now en route to Christmas Island. A last minute legal bid to allow nine-year-old Iranian orphan, Seena, to stay in Sydney with relatives was also unsuccessful.
The survivors had been told they would be leaving Villawood detention centre at 9am this morning, but when media and supporters arrived at the centre before 8am, the group had already been moved on.
Ian Rintoul from the Refugee Action Collective told New Matilda it was unclear what time the group had left the centre, but said family members inside last spoke to one of the survivors at 3.30am this morning.
By 10am the Immigration Department had confirmed they were on their way back to Christmas Island.
In a speech entitled 'The genius of Australian multiculturalism', the Immigration Minister last night told the Sydney Institute that multiculturalism had, "without doubt, strengthened Australian society". He announced new initiatives to deal with racism, as well as the establishment of a new multicultural council.
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