This morning, we suddenly had the whiff of change, as the Minister for Immigration Alex Hawke proclaimed that the Murugappan family from Biloela will be released from Christmas Island and be welcomed back to the mainland.
Per a statement, Hawke said that “I have exercised my power under section 197AB of the Migration Act to make a residence determination to allow the Sri Lankan family currently in held detention to reside in the Perth community.”
However, a liberal amount of salt should be added to the news, as Hawke also said “in making this determination I am balancing the government’s ongoing commitment to strong border protection policies with appropriate compassion in circumstances involving children in held detention.”
Speaking of appropriate compassion, in May of 2019, one week after the Coalition was returned to power, the Department of Home Affairs made a series of recommendations to the then-Immigration Minister, David Coleman. The Department of Home Affairs said that the family has access to health and welfare services and their detention placement on Christmas Island was regularly reviewed. What’s more, the “Australian Border Force (ABF) has deemed the current placement suitable for the family,” the statement said.
Per Hawke, “the family will now reside in suburban Perth through a community detention placement, close to schools and support services, while the youngest child receives medical treatment from the nearby Perth Children’s Hospital and as the family pursues ongoing legal matters.”
It’s worth noting that the family will remain in detention, and under guard. Under the ruling, the parents will not be able to work, nor will the girls be able to attend school. Indeed, they will not be allowed to return to the community that wants to see them return. As advocate Shane Bazzi noted, there are “lots of qualifiers in this statement. This is not good enough. Community detention is still detention. This family should be given a permanent visa and be allowed to return home to Biloela.”
Yet while this is no real solution, it seems that we should already have one.
Court documents filed and referred to in the Federal Court Decision in April 2020 revealed that the Department of Home Affairs recommended that the Tamil family from Biloela be granted substantive visas and “remain in Australia”.
It’s worth noting that the family will remain in detention, and under guard. Under the ruling, the parents will not be able to work, nor will the girls be able to attend school.
In February, the federal court dismissed the commonwealth’s appeal on a judgment that (Australian-born daughter) Tharunicaa was not “given procedural fairness when then immigration minister David Coleman considered lifting a bar preventing her from applying for an Australian visa,” per The Guardian.
Back in May of 2019, one week after the Coalition was returned to power, the Department of Home Affairs made a series of recommendations to the then-Immigration Minister, David Coleman. Those recommendations included that the Immigration Minister should exercise a number of powers to allow Tharnicaa, the youngest member of the family, to “allow the family to apply for a Temporary Protection Visa/Safe Haven Enterprise Visa” and significantly, “that he agrees to consider exercising Section 195A to grant the applicant and her family a substantive visa to remain in Australia.”
Despite these recommendations from Home Affairs to the Minister, on 29 August 2019, the family was nearly deported in a Skytraders plane out of Melbourne Airport. A last-minute injunction prevented them from being sent to Sri Lanka, and they have been held on Christmas Island ever since.
The lawyer representing the family, Carina Ford says “…it does not make sense that in May 2019 the family were recommended to be considered for a visa, but nearly two years later they remain in detention.”
“There are several Ministers who have always had the discretion within the immigration portfolio to release this family into the community while their legal matters are resolved,” says Ford. “That was the case in 2018, 2019, and 2020. It remains the case now, too. The family should be released immediately from detention and we hope that this will occur.”
Priya and Nades have released a statement through their lawyers following the federal court decision: “Thank you to everyone in Australia for the support and love that they have shown us. We are very grateful. It helps us stay strong. We just want to go back to Biloela. We need our little girls to be safe. Every day, they ask when can we go home?”