Well before a Tamil family was forced out of its Queensland home and put in detention, a stream of concerned neighbours inundated Peter Dutton with letters pleading for his ministerial intervention.
Family friend Angela Fredericks hadn’t yet launched the Change.org petition that would thrust mother Priya, dad Nadesalingam (Nades) and their daughters, Kopika, 4, and Tharunicaa, 2, into the national spotlight.
“What I really want the public to know is that our community tried to do this quietly,” Ms Fredericks told The New Daily.
She said she, along with Nades’ employers, close friends, community groups and even the local mayor, wrote to the Home Affairs Minister telling him “we need and we want these people to remain in our town”.
They lost hope when the family-of-four was forcibly removed from the Biloela community in March last year and taken to an immigration detention facility in Melbourne.
The family is currently detained on Christmas Island ahead of a court hearing on Wednesday to test the youngest child’s case for Australia’s protection.
“I remember talking to politicians that day and we were saying ‘has Peter Dutton read our letters? Has Peter Dutton read everything that we sent saying how much we wanted this family to stay?'” Ms Fredericks said.
When she realised Mr Dutton wasn’t listening to their pleas, she petitioned the Minister via Change.org.
That petition ignited public support and earned the family plenty of media coverage.
“It hurts me when people say we’re doing this for attention and they’re calling us activists, when in actual fact the government backed us into a corner,” Ms Fredericks said.
“They put us in a place where we had to come out fighting for our friends and that’s exactly what we’ve done.”
Ironically, immigration lawyer Simon Jeans said the public attention has hurt the family’s case.
The Change.org petition, the social media campaign #HomeToBiloela, the extensive media coverage and the public rallies and vigils have been “very counterproductive”, Mr Jeans said.
“It paints the government into a corner and it makes it really difficult for them to make a positive decision in favour of the family.
“Normally they’re quite supportive.”
He said successive immigration ministers “were making hundreds of decisions every year helping families” including those “who have been here illegally for decades”.
But this family’s case has been overblown by refugee activists, Mr Jeans said.
If the family are allowed to stay in Australia, he said “these activists who’ve taken over these campaigns will just say it was people power who won in the end”.
This may send the “wrong message” to others who will mistakenly believe that they will have to “run these enormous campaigns” to achieve a positive outcome.
Speaking from Malaysia, Nades’ former English tutor, Simone Cameron, said there were “significant representations made from family friends who were trying to assist the immigration process”.
“All of that had been done on the quiet to no effect,” Ms Cameron said.
Surprised by the solidarity Australians have shown this family, Ms Cameron said she “cant keep up to date” with all the events that have been spontaneously organised across Australia.
“It’s gotten to be such a big story around Australia because it smashes the stereotype of conservative country towns who are a bit anti-refugees,” she said.
Without the overwhelming support “this family would be gone and going back to danger and uncertainty in Sri Lanka”, Ms Cameron said.
A Federal Court hearing will be held on Wednesday to decide their fate.
Advocates of the family are asking people to gather outside the court at 9am for a peaceful show of support.
“It might be the last chance,” Ms Cameron said.