The Tamil family who have spent years in detention in Australia will be allowed to go home to Biloela, under a ruling by the new Albanese government.
Interim Home Affairs Minister Jim Chalmers said on Friday afternoon the family – parents Nades and Priya, and daughters Kopika, 6, and Tharnicaa, 4 – would be allowed to return to the Queensland town where they lived before they were taken into detention in March 2018.
“Today, in my capacity as interim Minister for Home Affairs, I exercised my power under section 195A of the Migration Act 1958 to intervene in the case of the Murugappan family,” he said.
“The effect of my intervention enables the family to return to Biloela, where they can reside lawfully in the community on bridging visas while they work towards the resolution of their immigration status, in accordance with Australian law.”
Nadesalingam and Priya Murugappan fled Sri Lanka after the country’s civil war, arriving separately on people-smuggling vessels in 2012 and 2013. Their two daughters were born in Australia.
Dr Chalmers said he had spoken to the family and wished them well for their return to Queensland after more than four years in detention.
“This decision to will allow them to get ‘home to Bilo”, a big-hearted and welcoming Queensland town that has embraced this beautiful family,” he said.
The new government’s decision came just weeks before Tharnicaa Murugappan turns five, and means she will be able to celebrate her first birthday in freedom from immigration detention.
Family friend Angela Fredericks, who has helped lead the “home to Bilo” fight to have the family returned, described it as “an incredible moment”.
“We have been waiting four years to hear those words – that we were going to see our friends soon. So, it is such a relief up here in Biloela today and we just can’t wait for them to come home,” she told the ABC.
She said the family was excited to finally be able to book tickets home to Queensland.
“The town here once again has just rallied. There have been so many offers of accommodation, of work opportunities, of furniture, all those things. This family, they are going to just be completely cradled and looked after until they’re back on their feet, which knowing them it will not take them long.”
Ms Fredericks said campaigners had “known all along” that Sri Lanka was not safe for the family – or for other Tamils.
“We are actually looking forward to the opportunity to present all that information to the minister and actually have them come to understand what we have known all along, what the international community knows – that Tamils are people in need of protection,” she said.
Earlier, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said allowing the family to return to Biloela would be consistent with the view that Australia could have strong borders without being weak on humanity.
“This is a family that were welcomed and were a part of the Biloela community and at the cost of many millions of dollars have been treated in a way which just is not appropriate with Australian values,” he told ABC AM radio on Friday.
“The community want this family back to Biloela and that would be an entirely appropriate outcome.”
Mr Albanese said the cost to the family’s health and the economic cost of their detention provided a clear reason to resolve the case.
The Murugappans were given temporary protection visas in Australia and were valued members of the Biloela community. Nades worked at the local meatworks and Priya was a community volunteer.
In March 2018, immigration officers took the family from their Biloela home after Priya’s bridging visa expired and Nades’ refugee status claim was rejected.
They were placed in detention in Melbourne, before being held on Christmas Island from August 2019.
Facing pressure from community groups, lawyers, doctors and politicians, and with Tharnicaa needing medical care, then immigration minister Alex Hawke announced in June 2021 the family would live in suburban Perth under a community detention placement while legal action continued.
But he insisted the decision would not create a pathway to a visa.
In September, 12-month bridging visas were granted to Pria, Nades and Kopika, but not to Tharnicaa. That meant the family could not return to Biloela.