Australia lets refugee family go free from Christmas Island after intense media and public pressure

·3 min read
People hold up placards at a rally to support the Sir Lankan origin Tamil family living in detention  (AFP via Getty Images)
People hold up placards at a rally to support the Sir Lankan origin Tamil family living in detention (AFP via Getty Images)

Australia has freed a Tamil refugee family from Christmas Island to live together in Perth after continued pressure on the Scott Morrison government following the hospitalisation of the family’s youngest child.

The father, Nadesalingam Muruggapan and the couple’s elder daughter Kopika boarded a flight to Perth on Monday to reunite with their family after nine days. They had previously been separated from the other two members of the family -- the mother, Priya, and their youngest daughter Tharnicca, who contracted a blood infection and needed medical care.

Immigration Minister Alex Hawke said the family of four will be permitted to live in Perth in a community detention placement while Tharnicca continues to be treated in the city’s children’s hospital.

“In making this decision I am conscious of the compassionate factors of having children in detention for prolonged periods of time versus ongoing litigation matters, matters before the courts, matters before me as a minister that will take some time for us to resolve,” Mr Hawke said in a press conference.

“In doing so, this will ensure that the children in the family have access to services in the community, health support, schools and other forms of support from the government and the Australian people while the final matters are being resolved,” he said.

He also said despite the decision to allow the family to stay together in Perth, their long-term future in Australia remains unclear as their legal efforts to be granted refugee status continue.

“Their immigration status has not changed and therefore on balance I have made a decision, a compassionate decision to keep the family in the Australian community while they take further matters up with the government,” he said.

The Murrugappans, a Tamil family from Sri Lanka, has been at the centre of a national outcry since they were sent to Christmas Island, an Australian territory in the Indian Ocean after their asylum claims were rejected, and while the courts considered their legal appeals.

The family was removed from their home in a raid by immigration officials in March 2018 after their visas expired, and they were sent to an immigration detention centre in Melbourne and later to Christmas Island in 2019. There were also efforts to deport the family in 2019, however, a federal court judge granted a last minute injunction, after they had boarded a plane to Sri Lanka.

Nadesalingam and Priya arrived in Australia as refugees separately by boat in 2012 and 2013 and sought asylum. They met and married in Australia in 2014, their two daughters were born in the country but do not have right to Australian citizenship by birth. They had been living in the rural Biloela community in Queensland before being moved to a detention centre.

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Rights groups and activists have been demanding to bring them back to their home and the pressure increased after Tharunicca’s illness.

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In a statement that accompanied the photos of dad and daughter boarding the plane, the campaigning group Home To Bilo, which has been demanding their return to the Queensland community, welcomed the impending reunion.

“After nine long days, this family is finally being reunited. When will they be allowed #HomeToBilo?” the group said.

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