A Tamil family fighting deportation will be able to stay in Australia while their legal proceedings continue after a government appeal was rejected.
Priya and Nades Murugappan and their two young daughters are being detained in a demountable building on Christmas Island at a cost of $4,000 a day.
In April 2020 a court ruled their youngest girl’s application for a protection visa was not assessed properly.
The government appealed but on Tuesday lost that case, meaning the family will temporarily remain on Christmas Island while their claim is assessed.
In a statement sent through their lawyers the family said: ‘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?’
Recent pictures sent to Daily Mail Australia show Kopika, five, and Tharunicaa, three, trying to enjoy life on the island where they cannot visit friends, must get permission to go the playground and are accompanied by guards to school.
Priya and Nades Murugappan and their two young daughters (pictured) are being detained in a demountable building on Christmas Island at a cost of $4,000 a day
Kopika (left) gets taken to school by guards while Priya stays inside to look after three-year-old Tharunicaa (right)
Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton does not believe the family are legitimate refugees but the courts have ruled they cannot be deported until their legal proceedings are over.
Minster Dutton on Tuesday told radio 2GB that Australia ‘is still under threat from boat arrivals’ and believes allowing the family to stay will send the wrong signal to people smugglers.
Lawyer Carina Ford says the family should be allowed to live in Biloela, Queensland – where they settled after arriving by boat seven years ago – until their case is closed.
‘The government says Christmas Island is the most appropriate place for them to be housed even though there’s no justification as to why that’s the case,’ she told Daily Mail Australia.
‘There is just no need for children to be in detention and they should be released into the community so they can be where children should be.’
The family lives in a temporary block with a bedroom and a living room and can cook food brought to them in a separate kitchen.
During the week five-year-old Kopika gets taken to school by guards while Priya stays inside to look after three-year-old Tharunicaa, who was just a few months old when her family was arrested.
‘All of her life she’s been locked up. She’s spent three Christmases in detention which is ludicrous,’ said Ms Ford.
‘Their lives are lonely and monotonous and the children are getting older so they’re aware of their circumstances.’
Tharunicaa (pictured) was just a few months old when her family was arrested and has spent the vast majority of her life locked up by the Australian Government
Figures released last year showed the government has spent more than $6million detaining the family. Pictured: Priya and Nades
The Biloela community wants them to be allowed back and supporters have kept in touch and sent presents over Christmas.
‘They were inundated with box loads of cards and gifts from right across Australia, which was lovely,’ Ms Ford explained.
‘The pandemic has gathered more support for them to be released because people have an idea of what it’s like for them to be in lockdown.
‘People are looking on and wondering why this family are in the circumstances that they are, people are finding it more difficult to comprehend why they’re in detention.’
The family used to be the only detainees on Christmas Island until 225 people, mostly criminals whose vivas were cancelled, were moved into a separate facility near to theirs.
Sisters: Kopika, five, and Tharunicaa, three
Earlier this month detainees started fires in a violent protest as they demanded better medical care and improved internet access.
‘We have concerns about the recent riots at the other facility on Christmas Island,’ Ms Ford said.
‘We have written to the department to make sure there is no crossover of guards because the last thing you want is people who are working in a volatile situation coming into a situation where a family is located.’
Figures released last year showed the government has spent more than $6million detaining the family and fighting for their deportation in the courts. Last year the cost of detention was $1.4million, which equates to $4,000 a day.
‘The money spent on this case is massive, at a time when overspending on situations like these is unnecessary, Ms Ford said.
‘There’s no reason for it when they could be contributing in the community as they were prior to being detained, working and not costing the taxpayer a cent. But that just doesn’t seem to be the government’s position.’
In an ABC radio report last month, Priya said the family feel like animals kept on their own.
‘We pray to God that no-one has to go through the same situation as us,’ she said.
The Department of Home Affairs said in a statement: ‘Australian Border Force has deemed the current placement suitable for the family.’
In a previous interview with Daily Mail Australia, Ms Ford criticised Mr Dutton for claiming the family was wasting taxpayer money by refusing to return to Sri Lanka.
‘The same argument applies that he’s being unfair by detaining them, it’s as simple as that,’ she said.
‘I feel that trying to flip it around and blame the parents like that hasn’t worked for Minister Dutton.
‘I think people can see that it doesn’t make sense for the person detaining the children to blame the parents.’
Three years ago: While on bridging visas, the family rented a small house, paid for with money Nades earned by working at an abattoir
The family are not allowed to visit friends on the island and must get approval to go to a playground where they are accompanied by guards
The family (pictured on Christmas Island) lives in a temporary block with a bedroom and a living room and can cook food brought to them in a separate kitchen
Ms Ford said if the government really wanted to reduce the cost to taxpayers then it would make more sense to release the family from detention on the island which is 1,500km north-west of Australia.
‘We are using taxpayer dollars to detain them but they could be in the community while their case is pending, actually contributing, because Nades used to work in the local meatworks, and costing the taxpayer no money,’ she said.
‘Can you justify spending this amount of money on keeping a detention centre open that no-one else is using? I don’t think you can. Maybe that’s something the government can re-consider.’
Priya and Nades came to Australia by boat separately in 2012 and 2013, alleging they were escaping the Sri Lankan civil war.
They met in Sydney before getting married and settling in Biloela, Queensland where they had two children.
The family rented a small house, paid for with money Nades earned by working at an abattoir.
While her husband put food on the table, Priya looked after the children and attended Biloela Baptist Church craft group where she made dozens of friends.
But they were kicked out in March 2018 when their home was raided by police at 5am, the day after Priya’s bridging visa expired.
In October 2019, the United Nations Human Rights Committee requested the family be let off Christmas Island but the government ignored it.
A Federal Court judge in April ruled their deportation must remain on hold after determining the youngest daughter, Tharunicaa, had been denied procedural fairness in her bid to apply for a protection visa.
Priya and Nades met in Sydney before getting married and settling in Biloela, Queensland where they had two children
The family are stuck on Christmas Island. Pictured: A detention centre on the island
The government was also ordered to pay the family more than $200,000 in legal fees.
Speaking on Sydney radio 2GB last year, Mr Dutton said the family should stop fighting deportation.
‘This case has gone on since 2012 I think, and it must have cost now… probably over $10 million,’ he said.
‘That’s money that should be going into… communities and helping Australian citizens.
‘They are not refugees and they have used every trick in the book to make sure they can stay.
‘This is a situation of their own making, it is ridiculous, it’s unfair on their children, and it sends a very bad message to other people who think that they can rort the system as well.’
Priya and Nades (pictured) came to Australia by boat separately in 2012 and 2013, alleging they were escaping the Sri Lankan civil war
Ms Ford urged Mr Dutton to grant a protection visa and allow the family to stay in Australia.
‘That’s always been our position in this case. It’s open to the minister to not have this go on and spend more money on it. The choice is his.’
Ms Ford said she believes there is a ‘good prospect’ of her winning the case, which centres on two-year-old Tharunicaa, whose visa claim was never assessed.
Nades claimed he will be persecuted in Sri Lanka because he was forced to join the militant group Tamil Tigers in 2001 and was harassed by the Sri Lankan military.
The Immigration Assessment Authority rejected the claims on the basis he frequently travelled between Sri Lanka, Kuwait and Qatar for work between 2004 and 2010 during the civil war, something that a Tamil Tigers member would not be allowed to do.
Priya has claimed she watched her former fiance get burned alive and was raped during the Sri Lankan civil war which lasted from 1983 to 2009.
Labor leader Anthony Albanese has described the family’s detention as ‘publicly funded torture’ and said they should be allowed to stay.
Former Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce has also said the family’s Biloela community, who want them to stay, should be listened to.
The Home Affairs Minister (pictured) told the family to go back to Sri Lanka – where they fear persecution