THE smiles and easy disposition of Nades, Priya, Kopika and Tharnicaa belie their broken-hearted predicament.
The asylum-seeking Tamil family that settled in Biloela has now spent more than 1000 days in immigration detention, and face spending their third Christmas away from their adopted home in outback Queensland.
“Where is our compassion, where Jesus is asking us to love our neighbours,” St Joseph’s Biloela priest Fr Thadayoose Lazar said.
Fr Lazar recalls meeting the family before they were taken away from their home in a dawn raid by Australian Border Force officials in March, 2018.
He said there were “very mixed feelings”, even amongst Catholics about whether an asylum-seeking family should be allowed to stay in Biloela.
For Fr Lazar there is no doubt – the family had not joined the Catholic community for worship, but they were “spiritual family members”.
He remembers Priya bringing her children into the church to pray privately.
“They were here, they were good to the community, they were helpful – the father was working in the community, his wife was going to Vinnies to help, sometimes to receive help – they were doing no harm,” Fr Lazar said.
“How can you ignore the suffering of your broken-hearted brothers and sisters?”
As 1000 days in detention ticked over on November 29, Biloela supporters of the family posted on Facebook: “We cannot believe that anyone could justify keeping these dedicated parents and their gorgeous little girls locked up, when they have a home, and a community that wants them back”.
“We have sent these cute Christmas sacks to our little ‘cockatoos’ Kopika and Tharnicaa, in the hope of lifting their spirits as they approach their third Christmas in detention.”
Parents Priya and Nades came to Australia separately by boat in 2012 and 2013 following Sri Lanka’s bitter civil war.
Both claim they face persecution in Sri Lanka due to links to the Tamil Tigers – a group that fought for liberation during the war.
They married and settled in Biloela, where their two daughters were born.
Their arrest and detention came after their four-year bridging visas expired.
First they were placed in a Melbourne detention centre, and have spent the past two years on Christmas Island where their days are spent in a demountable consisting of a bedroom and living room, in the Phosphate Hill Immigration Facility.
The family can only leave their accommodation under security guard escort – whether it is to take five-year-old Kopika to school, or to go to the recreation centre.
All trips must be authorised by Australian Border Force at least two days in advance.
The family remains in detention on Christmas Island awaiting the outcome of a complex federal court case over whether Tharunicaa was denied procedural fairness over her application for a visa.
The rest of the family have exhausted their appeals.
The Catholic Leader reported in April that Justice Mark Moshinsky ruled that Tharunicaa had been denied procedural fairness but, since then, the Federal Government has appealed.
A #BringThemHometoBiloela campaign has gained strong national support but failed to pursued the Government to use ministerial powers to intervene in the case.
“When we look at the history of Australia, people came from all over the world and made Australia great,” Fr Lazar said.
“From a Christian perspective … Pope Francis is calling us to be compassionate to asylum seekers and refugees.”
The United Nations has also requested the family be let off Christmas Island but the Government has ignored those calls.
Minister Peter Dutton does not believe the family are legitimate refugees and wants to deport them – but the courts have ruled they cannot be sent home until their legal proceedings are over.
Via Facebook, the group @solidaritywithbiloela has encouraged Australians to send the family morale-boosting Christmas messages.
“Let’s show them we haven’t forgotten about them, and that we won’t ever stop until they’re home to Bilo – please, write a Christmas card with a message of support …,” the group said in a post.
The address is: Nades and Priya, c/o Phosphate Hill Immigration Facility, Christmas Island, WA , 6798.