Biloela’s Murugappan family will be released from Christmas Island and allowed temporarily into the community in Perth, but the federal government is still blocking them from permanent resettlement or returning to their Queensland home.
The family’s supporters have cautiously welcomed the news, but warned that “community detention is no guarantee of safety and peace for this family.”
Immigration Minister Alex Hawke made a long-awaited announcement on Tuesday morning, confirming the family – parents Priya and Nades, and young daughters Kopika, 6, and Tharnicaa, 4 – would go into community detention in Western Australia.
This would allow them to access “schools and support services”, Mr Hawke said. But he specifically noted the change “does not create a pathway to a visa”, and hinted the arrangement would be temporary.
Statement on the Sri Lankan family in held detention. pic.twitter.com/2pH7USZJQV
— Alex Hawke MP (@AlexHawkeMP) June 14, 2021
It comes after weeks of mounting pressure on the Morrison government, after youngest daughter Tharnicaa was medically evacuated to Perth after suffering serious medical issues, including a blood infection.
She is with mother Priya in Western Australia, while father Nades and Kopika remain on Christmas Island.
It is also unclear how long the family will remain in community detention, and whether they will be eventually returned to Christmas Island.
Mr Hawke also importantly notes they will be in Perth “while the youngest child receives medical treatment … and as the family pursues ongoing legal matters”, but did not note whether it would be a temporary or more permanent arrangement.
In an interview on 2GB radio, Mr Hawke seemed to suggest the family would remain in Perth only while their remaining legal challenges – a High Court appeal and an Administrative Appeals Tribunal case – continued.
Asked by 2GB host Ben Fordham if they were “guaranteed to stay”, Mr Hawke said: “No, nothing today has given them any pathway to a permanent visa”.
He also noted that the government’s policies on boat arrivals “are not changing”.
“If you are not found to be owed protection, which so far this family has not been found to be owed protection by anybody, and you’ve arrived by boat and it’s safe to go home and your country’s safe, and you don’t have any protection claims we do require you to go home,” Mr Hawke said.
“You won’t be permanently resettled in Australia.”
Earlier, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said the family would soon be reunited on the Australian mainland. However, he would not confirm whether it would be a permanent or temporary resettlement.
Angela Fredericks, a friend of the Murugappan family and organiser of the Home To Bilo support group, urged the government to allow them to return to Queensland.
“We are pleased that the Department of Home Affairs is finally taking this family off Christmas Island, after more than three years of sub-standard care in immigration detention in Melbourne and on Christmas Island,” Ms Fredericks said on Tuesday.
“We acknowledge today’s second announcement by Minister Hawke, that the family will now be placed into community detention in Perth. We hope and assume this is only a temporary step. Community detention is no guarantee of safety and peace for this family.”
She said the family still wanted to return to Biloela, with hopes of Mr Muruguppan returning to his old job and enrolling the girls in the local school.
Labor and the Greens have called on the federal government to allow the family to permanently stay in Australia, and return to Biloela, where they had lived before being taken into detention in 2018.
“We want that family to get home to Bilo, to a town which has embraced them in a very Australian, very compassionate way,” shadow treasurer Jim Chalmers said.
“People have got questions about what [Mr Frydenberg] said on television this morning. He said that the family will be reunited, but will they get home to Biloela?”
More to come.