From Christmas Island detention, the Biloela family remain in long-term immigration limbo

Kopika comforts her younger sister, Tharnicaa, who is now being treated in a Perth hospital. Picture: Supplied
Kopika comforts her younger sister, Tharnicaa, who is now being treated in a Perth hospital. Picture: Supplied

Despite being shifted from Christmas Island detention, the Biloela supported family of Tamil asylum seekers remain in limbo with Immigration Minister Alex Hawke leaning against using his powers to intervene in their case as they seek various legal avenues to thwart deportation to Sri Lanka.

With mounting public pressure to free the family from three years of detention - including from within the government and from the Queensland town of Biloela - the minister is allowing the Murugappan family to be reunited and live in community detention in Perth, with access to schools and health services, while the four-year-old daughter Tharnicaa recovers in hospital from a serious blood infection.

It is a result, but the not one supporters wanted.

"This is not freedom. This is not complete freedom," Aran Mylvaganam from the Tamil Refugee Council said on Tuesday.

"We will continue our fight until this family is fully freed. Their home is in Biloela."

Lawyers for the family say they are relieved that they will be back together. The parents Priya and Nades Murugappan can't work or volunteer without approval and the family cannot travel from Perth or stay anywhere but a designated residence overnight without approval.

Despite the breakthrough on compassionate grounds, the family members have no legal right to stay in Australia. The minister has not made a decision on the broader issue of whether or not they can apply for a visa.

The parents arrived in Australia separately by boat and the Morrison government is determined to stick to a long term, hardline stance on border protection that anyone who arrives by boat cannot be allowed to permanently settle.

"We do not believe anyone who has come by boat should be allowed to be permanently resettled in Australia," Mr Hawke said.

"That's been tested at several elections."

While saying he has compassion for the family, the Immigration Minister has referred to them as "illegal marine arrivals" or IMAs. He says allowing them to stay in Australia permanently would send a welcoming message to people smugglers.

Immigration Minister Alex Hawke. Image by Sitthixay Ditthavong

Immigration Minister Alex Hawke. Image by Sitthixay Ditthavong

"Anyone who is an IMA, no matter what the status of their case, whether it comes to the public attention or where it doesn't, and we have to remember there are still thousands of IMAs in different cohorts, can lead to a restart of the people smuggling trade," he said.

"If the people smugglers see a weakening in the border protection stance of Australia they will restart the trade. And these are a family of IMAs in the parents who in 2012 and 2013 came to Australia by boat. The government's position has been clear that no-one will permanently resettled in Australia who has been an IMA."

The family have been officially determined not to be refugees and the government said were, therefore, not deserving of Australia's protection. Mr Hawke says it is safe to return to Sri Lanka and if they do not have a visa they should return to that country.

"There are many families that we do owe protection too. People who engage Australia's detection obligations that we need to afford," the Immigration Minister said.

"This has been by a judicial merits review through several processes. This family has been found not to engage those obligations."

The two Australian born girls are the only children in immigration detention in Australia and the youngest, four-year-old Tharnicaa, just spent her birthday in hospital.

"Everyone has compassion towards the two children and the two beautiful little girls in this family," Alex Hawke said.


"Everyone is responsible for what has occurred including the families and the lawyers and the activists and the government. Because they arrived by boat, that is the circumstance they are in. It's a holistic problem that must be resolved."

The minister can still use his discretion to intervene in the case of the youngest daughter, specifically to possibly lift a bar to allow her to apply for permanent protection.

Such a decision, if successful would allow the family to stay.

There are also other legal avenues, already being pursued, however they make take years to be resolved.

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This story No end in sight to Biloela family plight first appeared on The Canberra Times.


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