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Reprieve for Tamil family, two-year-old daughter ‘not afforded procedural fairness’ in visa application

Reprieve: The Biloela family fears persecution if they are sent to Sri Lanka. Supplied: @HometoBilo

AFTER a partial victory in the Federal Court a Tamil mother has asked the government to give her family a normal life at home in the Queensland town of Biloela after two “depressing” years in detention.

Priya Murugappan, her partner Nades and their Australian-born daughters Kopika, 4, and two-year-old Tharunicaa, remain on Christmas Island and could yet be deported to Sri Lanka.

On April 17, the Federal Court ruled Tharuncaa was not granted “procedural fairness” in making a visa application.

This is not yet a decision about whether the family will be allowed back into the community, but leaves the way open for the family to continue its bid to stay in Australia.

Justice Mark Moshinsky ruled Immigration Minister David Coleman had lifted the bar to consider a visa application for the two-year-old in May last year.

Minister Coleman had ordered a full departmental briefing on handling the family’s case, including the option that he exercise a power to allow them to apply for protection visas.

That prompted an assessment last August, during which Justice Moshinsky said Tharunicaa was “not afforded procedural fairness”.

Lawyers now have seven days to tell the Federal Court what should happen next.

Tharunicaa was born after her parents had made visa applications and had their claims for protection refused.

Appeals to the courts about the fairness of the process in their cases were not successful.

Even though she was born in Australia, her parents’ arrival in Australia by boat as asylum seekers means the law designates her to be an “unauthorised maritime arrival”.

Legally, this means she is not able to make an application for a protection visa unless the minister for immigration personally allows it.

Throughout their legal battle, parents Priya and Nades have said they face persecution if they are returned to Sri Lanka.

They have support from human rights activists and many in Biloela who have called for their return to their community.

Priya and Nades settled in the central Queensland town in 2014, after separately arriving in Australia by boat in 2012 and 2013, following Sri Lanka’s civil war. 

Nades worked at the meatworks, Priya was known for making her homemade curries, and their daughters were both born in Queensland.

Their new life in Biloela was shattered in 2016 when Australian Border Force officials made an early morning raid on their home. 

They were seized after their four-year bridging visas expired and placed in a Melbourne detention centre.

Last year their case to stay in Australia was rejected by the government, and they were put on a flight to Sri Lanka.

However a mid-flight injunction forced their plane to land in Darwin and the family was transferred to Christmas Island’s detention centre.

“Devoting so many resources to deporting this one family not only imperils their future, it is a waste of taxpayer money – legal fees, staff at the Christmas Island detention centre, a charter flight to take them to Sri Lanka – that could be spent protecting lives and livelihoods in the current crisis,” a spokesperson for the Tamil Refugee Council, Aran Mylvaganam, said.

A #BringThemHometoBiloela campaign has gained strong national support but failed to sway Home Affairs Minister, Peter Dutton, who last year, urged the family to “accept they are not refugees”, and refused to use his ministerial powers to save them.

Angela Fredericks, a resident of Biloela and family friend said the matter could be sorted out “really quite simply” if the minister “would actually use his powers and listen to the people”.

“We’ve got a small town that needs these people, and particularly with the current economic crisis, this would also be a really good news story right now”, she said.

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