Biloela Tamil family separated as mother flown to Perth for medical treatment

Priya Murugappan moved after doctors on Christmas Island unable to identify cause of pain, but she says ‘the greater pain’ is separation from young children

The Tamil woman from Biloela held with her husband and two young children in immigration detention for two years has been separated from her family and is awaiting test results in a Perth hospital after being airlifted to the mainland over the weekend.

Priya Murugappan was taken to Perth on Saturday for a CT scan not available on Christmas Island after complaining of abdominal pain and vomiting for two weeks. Her husband Nades Murugappan and two Australian-born daughters, Kopika and Tharunicaa, remain on Christmas Island, where the family has been detained since August 2019.

“I’m in so much pain with my health, but the greater pain is staying away from my children,” Priya told Guardian Australia on Monday. “I want them to be here as well.”

Priya and Nades sought asylum in Australia separately by boat before marrying and settling in the regional Queensland town of Biloela, where their two daughters were born. They were taken into detention in 2018, and the government’s attempt to deport them the following year was halted by a last-minute injunction. A court win means their refugee claim is still pending.

Priya said she was admitted to Christmas Island’s hospital four times in the last month, but X-rays and ultrasounds did not help doctors identify the cause of her pain.

The family’s lawyer, Carina Ford, told Guardian Australia she had raised concerns about the medical facilities on Christmas Island before, particularly when the island was used as a quarantine facility at the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

“It doesn’t have a tertiary hospital and clearly doesn’t have all the equipment that would be on the mainland,” Ford said. “Its remoteness is a concern also.”

Christmas Island is a 3.5-hour flight to Perth.

Priya described herself as lonely and stressed and said she had been unable to sleep properly in the last few days.

Kopika and Tharunicaa, aged 5 and 3, were crying on the phone when she spoke to them on Sunday, Priya said.

“They were asking me to come back or they wanted to be with me,” she said. “While I’m receiving this treatment I need their support. I want them to be by my side and I beg the government to let them come here and stay with me.

“All this time while I’ve been in detention my only support has been my husband, she added. “They have now removed the support that I received from my family, it’s very difficult for me.”

There are two guards stationed outside her room at Perth’s Fiona Stanley hospital, Priya said. Six guards had accompanied her to Christmas Island’s hospital and prevented a friend from visiting her there, and she is not able to receive visitors in Perth either, she said.

The poor internet connection available to the family on Christmas Island means she cannot video-call her daughters.

Priya said she had other health issues that were not able to be treated on Christmas Island. She is diabetic and has issues with her bladder and uterus, though doctors have said that is not the cause of her abdominal pain.

She also has an injured shoulder, which she said was caused by guards’ handling of her as the family was transferred to Christmas Island against their will. The injury means she cannot carry her children, which is emotionally painful, she said.

A physiotherapist who travelled to Christmas Island recommended injections to help with the pain, but she has not received a second injection months after she was meant to have received it, she said.

“If they just do the CT scan and deal with this pain and send me back to Christmas Island I don’t think I will ever get the necessary treatment for all these other issues,” she said. “I don’t want to return to Christmas Island where I will be denied proper medical support. I want to be in the community … I want to go back to Biloela and be with my supporters and friends while I receive this treatment.”

Family friend and Biloela resident Angela Fredericks said she spoke to Priya’s husband Nades on Sunday. “He said that Tharunicaa was just crying yesterday all day and not understanding where Mum is,” Fredericks said.

Tharunicaa’s older sister Kopika is “really starting to struggle with being in detention and understanding it’s not normal,” Ford said.

Ford said she was asking for the family to be released into the community while their case is pending. “There’s just no reason they need to continue to be detained,” she said. “This is a costly point [for the government] to make.

“If they were just here in Biloela, all this could be taken care of, and they’d be self-sufficient,” Fredericks said. “The amount of trauma that’s been inflicted on them is just ridiculous.”

Guardian Australia has contacted the Department of Home Affairs for comment.


Hannah Ryan

The GuardianTramp

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