The Morrison government is under growing pressure to allow the Biloela family to return to their Queensland community, with a decision on their future expected within days.
Immigration Minister Alex Hawke is facing calls to release the Murugappan family from detention on Christmas Island, with the family’s supporters saying they have “suffered years of torture” and need to be allowed to resume their lives in Australia.
On Saturday, Coalition MPs broke ranks with the government, saying it was time to allow Priya, Nades, and their children, six-year-old Kopika, and four-year-old Tharunicaa to return to Biloela.
Priya and Tharunicaa are currently in Perth, after Tharunicaa was diagnosed with sepsis and medically evacuated from Christmas Island earlier this week following several days of vomiting, diarrhoea and dizziness.
Visa decision expected within days
Mr Hawke is currently reviewing a legal brief that could allow asylum seekers to settle back into their adopted community in Queensland.
A decision on whether they will be granted visas is expected to be handed down within days.
Federal Liberal MP for North Sydney Trent Zimmerman spoke out against the Coalition’s tough stance on the family on Saturday.
“I think it is time that we brought them back from Christmas Island and that we do look at providing them a long-term future in Biloela and the community that has been so supportive of their aspirations,” Mr Zimmerman told the ABC.
He said he had spoken to Mr Hawke and encouraged him to “look favourably” on the family’s visa case.
Family friend and Biloela community member Angela Fredricks told The New Daily Priya and Tharunicaa were being kept in a small room with no windows, and a guard outside, while the four-year-old was treated.
“They’re just in the room, it has no windows,” Ms Fredricks said.
“Any parent could understand trying to occupy a four-year-old. Tharunicaa is feeling caged, you can see that.”
While the young girl’s health had improved she was struggling to understand what was going on and why she had been separated from the rest of her family, Ms Fredricks said.
Supporters of the family were relieved to hear that their local Nationals MP Ken O’Dowd has spoken to Mr Hawke, and both had agreed the situation with the family had gone on for too long.
But they are not getting their hopes up.
“We know Minister Hawke has the brief in front of him. We know he’s got the power and he could use it to bring him home,” Ms Fredricks said.
She said keeping them detained was “performative cruelty” and called on Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Mr Hawke to act with compassion.
“We have observed this cruelty for the past three-and-a-half years. We have seen the torture this family has gone through,” Ms Fredricks said.
“That has been done deliberately and purposefully by this government because of the policy.
“If they were in a community here and people were witnessing children getting malnutrition, psychological distress, untreated illnesses, child protection would be involved. Why is our government above that?”
The Morrison government wants to deport the Murugappan family back to Sri Lanka.
The family has been held on Christmas Island since 2019 while a legal battle over the handling of the visa application of Tharunicaa drags on.
Now, Mr Hawke has the opportunity to let them resettle back in their Queensland community, and Australian Lawyers Alliance president Greg Barns SC said he should take it.
“The minister can essentially remove a person from detention and give them a visa if they think it’s in the public interest to do so,” Mr Barns said.
“Effectively the minster is playing God with people’s lives. Because it’s a personal decision, he could make a decision tomorrow.”