Tamil Refugee Council spokesman Aran Mylvaganam (Image: AAP /James Ross)

One night in September last year, about 20 Sri Lankan asylum seekers were quietly spirited onto planes and deported. Unlike the Biloela family, whose case has elicited a groundswell of public sympathy, there were no protesters on the tarmac or dramatic, last-ditch legal battles.

Instead, it was just business as usual for Australia's border protection regime where, according to activists, lives are being upended by a system designed and built on hard-nosed bureaucratic pragmatism.