A Tamil couple and their two young daughters are under enormous mental strain as they await the outcome of their desperate battle against deportation, a friend says.
Angela Fredericks has gone to Christmas Island to support her friends, who will be sent back to Sri Lanka as early as Friday if they lose a last-ditch legal bid to remain here.
She says she had to fight for permission to spend time with Priya, her husband Nadesalingam and their Australian-born children Kopika, 4, and Tharunicaa, 2.
When she was finally allowed inside the Christmas Island facility where they are being held, she said the family’s mental torment was very difficult to watch.
“The weight of Priya in my arms, just sobbing … there’s just so much heart-break, and so much fear and distress,” she said from the island on Thursday.
“The girls ran up to me and held onto my legs. Kopika, she was always such a cheeky, bright little girl. I see so much frustration in her now.
“Yesterday she was just playing with sticks. Her actions, you can see it, she was just hitting the ground with the stick. I feel like her innocence has gone.”
Ms Fredericks said a plane was waiting on the tarmac at the island’s airport, waiting to take the family away if they lose a court hearing on Friday relating to the youngest child’s case for Australia’s protection.
Despite widespread support for the family to be allowed to remain in Australia, the Morrison government has refused to intervene.
The Federal Court has ordered the government not to deport the family until 4pm on Friday so it can continue hearing Tharunicaa’s case for protection, with other courts previously finding her older sister and parents do not qualify.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Thursday that he would accept the court’s decision.
But he again pointed to previous court rulings which found “there is no asylum claim here”.
Labor leader Anthony Albanese travelled to the Queensland town of Biloela on Wednesday, where the family had been living on a temporary visa.
He denied Labor’s support for the family indicated a policy shift, given more than 2000 Sri Lankans found to be economic migrants were deported in 2012 and 2013 when the party was in power.
“No it doesn’t at all,” he told Sky news.
He said the government should intervene on the basis that Nades worked at the Biloela meatworks – a business that couldn’t source enough local workers to operate.
“We are importing labour to do work at that meatworks – from overseas on temporary visas – at the same time as we have someone who wants to make a permanent contribution to that community being deported.”
Priya and Nades settled in Biloela, where they had their two children, after arriving separately by boat in 2012 and 2013 following Sri Lanka’s civil war.
Nades fears his links to Hindu Tamil Tigers insurgents, who battled Sri Lanka’s majority Buddhist government during the war, means he could face persecution if he goes back.
But the federal government says Nades has been back to Sri Lanka several times and that undermines his claim he faces a dangerous situation.
The government is fighting Tharunicaa’s claim for protection, saying it’s “futile”.