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Why Can’t The Murugappan Family Return To Biloela?

Let's get Tharni and her family home to Biloela - Melbourne rally

A Tamil Family has become the international face of Australia’s shameful treatment of asylum seekers. 

In recent weeks Perth has become the new epicentre of support for the Tamil Family locked up on Christmas Island for two years. The family has been granted a temporary reprieve while the youngest daughter, three-year old Tharnicaa recovers from a serious blood infection. But the family’s future still hangs in the balance as their legal battle to stay in Australia continues with the Federal Government.

The family will be given a house and medical care, and will be able to live freely in Perth, but they are still ‘technically’ in detention, classified as "irregular maritime arrivals".

The family’s battle with the Federal Government

Nades and Priya Murugappan arrived in Australian waters seeking asylum in 2012 and 2013, respectively. Having both fled Sri Lanka, the Tamil pair met in Australia, married, built a life amongst the community in the rural Queensland town of Biloela and had two daughters -- Kopika and Tharnicaa.

In 2018 Nades’ claim for asylum was rejected and all of his avenues for appeal failed. At the same time, his wife, Priya and their first daughter Kopika also lost their asylum status. Subsequently, three years ago, they were taken from their home in Biloela by Australian Border Force officials in a dawn raid. 

The family was detained by immigration authorities and just as they were about to be sent back to Sri Lanka, a last-minute injunction lodged by the family’s lawyers was granted, as Tharnicaa had not yet been assessed for a protection visa. The injunction forced the plane to land in Darwin and from there the family was taken to Christmas Island.

Taxpayers foot the bill

Since then, the legal battle has continued. Last year the Federal Government was ordered to pay the family more than $200,000 in legal fees. The Federal Court upheld the family’s appeal that three-year old Tharunicaa was denied procedural fairness in an application for a protection visa. The court also determined that their deportation must remain on hold.

To date, the full cost of the Government’s legal advice has not been disclosed, but it has been estimated that it could run into millions of dollars by the time the case is finally settled, a cost that will be borne by taxpayers. Taxpayers are also footing the bill for the family’s detention on Christmas Island, which costs about $20,000 a day.

Federal Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese has described it as “publicly funded torture” although it is understood that there is growing unease within the ranks of the Federal Government the longer the saga goes on, with a number of politicians reportedly campaigning behind the closed doors of Parliament House to set the family free.

Advocates for the family have called on the Morrison Government, without effect, to end the family’s detention, citing the long-term detrimental effects it could have, particularly on the two young girls.

What happens next?

Recently appointed Home Affairs Minister Ms Karen Andrews offered renewed hope for the family’s bid to stay in Australia when she took over from Peter Dutton in a recent cabinet reshuffle. But in recent weeks she has ruled out the possibility of the family being able to resettle in either the USA or New Zealand, and has not guaranteed their return to Biloela.

And yet, the Home Affairs Minister has the power to grant the family visas at any time, as former minister Peter Dutton did for a number of people, including two French au pairs he obtained urgent visas for. Immigration Minister Alex Hawke can also intervene at any point, if there are "extreme or compassionate circumstances".

Instead Ms Andrews has mooted the very real possibility that the family may eventually be deported to Sri Lanka despite the fact that Nades and Priya say they face persecution if they return.

Contact Us

If you are facing criminal charges and need representation from an experienced Criminal Lawyercontact the Andrew Williams Criminal Law Offices without delay on (08) 9278 2575.

Image source: Flickr user Matt Hrkac (licence)

PLEASE NOTE: The material in this blog post is for informational use only and should not be construed as legal advice. For answers to your questions regarding this or other topics, please contact a professional legal representative.

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