Nadesalingam (Nades) and Priya are two Tamils who arrived in Australia separately in 2012 and 2013 by boat after fleeing what amounted to a 26-year long civil war in Sri Lanka. The government granted them temporary protection visas while their claims for asylum were assessed. Both of them moved to Biloela, in Queensland, in 2014, which had a meatworks that had a reputation for employing new migrants and asylum seekers. They met there, got marries and had two daughters, Kopika (born May, 2015) and Thaarnica (born June, 2017)1.
After years of processing, their claims for refugee status were rejected by the Coalition government. This government has tried, twice, to deport them. The first attempt came when their temporary protection visas expired in 20181. At that time, the UN had reported that Tamils, particularly those with links to the now-defeated separatist army, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (the LTTE or Tamil Tigers), face systematic persecution and torture. Like many Tamils in the north, Nades had links to the LTTE2 and rightly feared persecution. The first attempt at deportation manifested itself as a raid on their home at 5am on Monday March 5, 2018, by Australian Border Force officials, accompanied by police and Serco guards. The family was given 10 minutes to pack some belongings before being flown to a detention centre in Melbourne. There, they were told to sign documents agreeing to “voluntary removal” and were told that, if they did not sign them, they would be denied access to a phone and forcibly deported separately2. At the time, Ken O’Dowd, the LNP Member for the electorate of Flynn, which includes Biloela, said the family did not qualify for refugee status and had exhausted all appeal processes and that “they were considered boat people and they have to leave Australia”.
On the night of Thursday, August 29, 2019, the family was removed from the immigration detention centre to be taken to Sri Lanka. Supporters arrived at Melbourne Airport to protest the imminent deportation, with some gaining access to the tarmac. An injunction to prevent them from being removed from the country was granted while the plane was en route to Darwin. The family were then moved to the immigration detention centre on Christmas Island, which had been closed the month before. The two little girls are the only children in an Australian immigration detention centre3.
While they were on Christmas Island, there were concerns about the quality of the medical care the family, especially the young girls, were receiving3, however there were problems long before they reached Christmas Island. In the middle of 2019, the youngest daughter Tharnicaa, aged 2 at the time, had severe tooth decay; the teeth were so rotten the nerves were exposed. This prevented her from eating solid food because of the pain. She had to have surgery to have the teeth removed. This was suspected to be because of a lack of vitamin D (from sunlight; their time outside was restricted) and a poor diet. In July 2020, the mother Priya was flown to Perth from Christmas Island for medical treatment after experiencing severe abdominal pain and bouts of vomiting which had been going on for two weeks3.
Last week (Monday June 7th) Tharnicaa was flown to Perth Children’s Hospital after been sick with diarrhoea and dizziness for several days. A friend of the Murugappan family, Angela Fredericks, spoke with Priya and Tharnicaa via videocall that same day and found out that the little girl had been diagnosed with sepsis, a life-threatening blood infection. This apparently has been caused by untreated pneumonia. On the weekend before, Tharnicaa’s mother, Priya, had been asking for the little girl to be taken to hospital but kept being told ‘no, she’s not sick enough, she’ll be fine’. Tharnicaa was not taken to hospital until she was basically unable to stand and her temperature had exceeded 40 degrees C. By the time Fredericks spoke to them, Tharnicaa was on intravenous antibiotics and was crying asking for her father. This was in vain, as her father, Nades, and older sister, Kopika, had been prevented from travelling to Perth with them4.
There has been a constant outcry about the cruelty inflicted on this family, centred around the ‘Home to Bilo’ campaign5. Many people have been involved, not just those who know the family from Biloela. There has been a petition on Change.org, which has now exceeded 500,000 signatures (including mine)6. Now Coalition MPs, Katie Allen, Trent Zimmerman, Jason Falinski, and Ken O’Dowd are calling for the family to be returned to Biloela. Allen tweeted “This has gone on for too long. We urgently need a timely resolution to a situation that is endangering the health and wellbeing of innocent children”7. I am sure this will be applauded by some gullible journalists and others who tug their forelock to the Liberal Party, like the pretend journalists in the Murdoch media. However, all I can feel is disgust at the extreme hypocrisy of these people. Many people have been telling them for years that what they have done to this family is unconscionable and inhumane. These girls and their parents have been in a concentration camp for over three years, but it is only now, because of a little girl’s life-threatening illness, they are taking notice. Why is it only now, that these MPs are calling for the disgusting cruelty to cease? It is only because these appalling hypocrites believe this public outcry may affect their comfortable, very well paid seat in parliament. Like most conservatives, is only when it affects them that they ever become concerned and, in desperation, pretend to have a conscience. They are a disgrace to our species.
The whole thing is an absolute disgrace and reflects very badly on Australia as a country. Removing the family to Christmas Island was absurd and apart from anything else an extremely expensive operation. The only sane thing to do is let the family return to Biloela and let them get on with their lives and hope that they have not been too badly affected psychologically.
Yep. That is the only solution. Anything else will just be more bastardry.
With all this newfound compassion there must be an election in the wing.
The hypocrisy – and irony – of Warren Entsch, often a more moderate voice amongst the conservative rabble, is particularly galling. “The poor bloody kids are victims in this and I think the lawyers, and the parents, have a lot to answer for.” Entsch would have us believe that the govt’s hands are clean despite numerous cases of Ministerial “discretion” being applied in far less deserving cases (Dutton’s au pair visas anyone?). Entsch’s heart bleeds for them but the parents have been found not to be asylum seekers so they should go home and apply for residence the normal way (subtext – where we can forget about them or in a worst case scenario help them “queue jump” if pressure in the media warrants in the leadup to the election after this one).
What does Morrison’s Horizon church have to say? Probably nothing, because as has been documented their teachings say that only true believers (presumably including all manner of hypocrites and compassionless do-nothing hand wavers) will enter the kingdom of heaven. Everyone else can please themselves.
I hadn’t heard that from Entsch. What a vacuous arsehole he must be; fits in the LNP perfectly.
Entsch comment: https://www.smh.com.au/politics/federal/they-should-never-have-been-sent-biloela-family-s-fate-to-be-decided-within-days-20210613-p580oc.html
Blaming human rights lawyers for this family’s treatment by the Morrison government and its agents is classic conservative deflection and just another example of their unaccountability for decisions of their own making.
Jeezuz! I blame the parents; Warren Entsch’s parents. They have raised an appalling ‘human’.
There’s a most cynical view one can take of this vile saga of the Sri Lankan “boat” family (i.e. humans in dire need of asylum under global conventions to which we – supposedly! – are a party). If it’s very very cynical, then given that our present government is over- authoritarian, paranoid and obscenely inhumane, it’s probably correct. This view says that by treating the Murugappans as they do/have done over two plus years, the LNP has reminded its charming base that the issue of illegal immigration is still a key platform. Yes, these poor people are nothing to Scumbaggo and company, but an easily exploitable form of policy advertising until the next election. (“We still stop the boats, see, see everyone”) Their avowed pretext for such grossly unfair imprisonment of two little girls (let alone mum and dad), is that there’s a solemn higher duty, they tell you: to prevent drownings from thousands or billions of shockingly leaky boats hired out to refugees by money-grubbing crims in Luxembourg or Mongolia (?) Aah, but isn’t it lovely, isn’t that all so very very Christian? It would possibly, remotely be, if it were truly the LNP motive, not an expedient excuse. It would be, at a pinch, a nice reason, if the scabby Morrison pack didn’t then make political use of that poor family, at the same time making their lives miserable as hell.
A last point; to be brutal, I don’t think the outrage over the Sri Lankans’ nasty incarceration is, of itself, enough to pitch a lot of voters into Labor hands. There’s something a bit too hip-pocket conscious these days in Oz, for this issue to become vital. The low racketeers led by Al Morri-pone won’t be awake at night wondering if they’ll lose next time our blind voters turn out to (YAWN!) choose between Tweedle-dirty and Tweedle-deficient.
I think you are right. They use the cruelty to attract the far right racist scum, while throwing out the ‘no drownings on my watch’ as a sop to those who aren’t quite as openly bigoted, but who need a phrase to spout, so as to justify the bigotry they do have.