Three members of Biloela family granted year-long visas but they’ll have to remain in Perth

Youngest daughter Tharnicca must remain in community detention, meaning family can not return to Queensland

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Members of the Biloela family – the Tamil asylum seekers mired in a years-long battle to remain in Australia – have been granted 12-month bridging visas allowing them to remain in the country.

But they cannot go back to their previous home in central Queensland.

The immigration minister, Alex Hawke, granted visas to three of the four members of the Murugappan family on Thursday: parents Priya and Nades and to Australian-born daughter Kopika. But no visa was granted to the family’s youngest daughter, Tharnicaa, who was also born in Australia.

That decision means the family will not be able to return to their community in Biloela. Instead, they will remain in community detention in Perth.

A week ago, the family were granted a last-minute reprieve in their long-running struggle to remain in Australia when Hawke flagged they would be given three-month bridging visas allowing them to stay in the country until just before Christmas.

Following years in detention, including being isolated on Christmas Island, the family has been living in Perth after Tharnicaa had to be evacuated from the island in June suffering a severe blood infection.

Supporters of the family said they had been “surprised” by the decision to grant the visa extension to three of the four family members while withholding a visa from the youngest child – whose right to claim protection has been the subject of a court challenge.

Without a visa, Tharnicaa is not able to live in the community, as the family had been in Biloela. Instead, as a non-citizen not holding a visa, she must be in detention, in this case, community detention in Perth.

“Australian law gives minister Hawke the power to bring this sorry saga to a close with the stroke of a pen, by issuing the same visa to four-year-old Tharni he has granted to her mum, dad and sister,” Biloela resident and family friend Angela Fredericks said.

“Just like her sister Kopika, Tharnicaa was born in Queensland, and that’s where she belongs. There is simply no reason to deny Tharni a bridging visa other than to stop her family coming home to Biloela, where they are welcome, wanted and needed.”

The family’s lawyer, Carina Ford, said it was within the minister’s power to allow the family to return to their home in Biloela.

“To make it clear: the minister has chosen not to use his public interest power to release the youngest child from community detention meaning the family can not return to Biloela and will remain in Perth.”

The minister’s office said it would not be providing a statement on the granting of the new visas.

Priya fled Sri Lanka at the height of the violence of that country’s civil war in 2000, escaping to India, a country that is not a party to the refugee convention and exerts intense pressure on Sri Lankan Tamils to return, despite continued persecution of the ethnic minority there. She fled again, arriving in Australia by boat in 2013.

Nades arrived in Australia a year earlier, in 2012, having left the violent upheaval of the end of the war.

Nades fled, he told the Australian government, fearing persecution because of his links – as many Tamil men had – to the former separatist army, since defeated, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

In Australia, Nades and Priya met, married and built a life together. Their daughters were born in 2015 and 2017. They lived in Biloela and Nades worked at the local meatworks.

At dawn on 5 March 2018, the morning after Priya’s bridging visa expired, and as she awaited a court hearing set to assess her case, the family home was raided by Australian Border Force officers. The family was forcibly removed and flown to a Melbourne detention centre where they were detained for 17 months.

In August 2019, the family was put on a plane to be removed to Sri Lanka, but a mid-air court injunction, granted in the middle of the night as the aircraft flew west towards Colombo, ordered the family returned to Australia.

They were taken from the plane in Darwin, then sent to Christmas Island, to be held at the formerly shuttered detention centre. For months, they were the only residents of the massive centre, which was employing more than 100 staff at a cost of millions of dollars.

Priya has consistently maintained her assessment – her single chance to present her claim for protection – was flawed and didn’t allow her to present the full facts of her case. Unwell, and eight months pregnant when she was interviewed by government officials over the phone, the transcript of her interview shows the connection repeatedly dropping out and key evidence, including around torture, was not heard.

The federal government has consistently maintained the family’s claim for protection was reasonably determined and they could not be offered protection.

“This family’s case has been comprehensively assessed, over many years, by the department, various tribunals, and courts,” the department of home affairs has said. “They have consistently been found not to meet Australia’s protection obligations.”


Ben Doherty

The GuardianTramp

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