1000 days in detention: Biloela's community just want their friends to come home

Dear friends,

Today marks another milestone for Nades, Priya, Kopika and Tharnicaa. Today it is 1000 days since this beautiful family was snatched from their home in Biloela in a dawn raid by Mr Dutton’s Australian Border Force. We cannot believe that anyone could justify keeping these dedicated parents and their gorgeous little girls locked up, when they have a home and a community that wants them back.

We have sent these cute Christmas sacks to our little ‘cockatoos’ Kopika and Tharnicaa, in the hope of lifting their spirits as they approach their third Christmas in detention.

Let’s show them we haven’t forgotten about them, and that we won’t ever stop until they’re home to Bilo – please, write a Christmas card with a message of support and address it to:
Nades and Priya
c/o Phosphate Hill Immigration Facility
Christmas Island WA 6798

*Please send your card via express post so it arrives in time for Christmas

So reads today’s post addressed to the 14,847 Facebook group members who are part of the “Bring Priya, Nades and their girls home to Biloela”.

The group’s “About” description provides a good summary of the reason it exists: Nades, Priya and their daughters are from our community of Biloela. They were taken and are being held on Christmas Island. We want them to stay.

Priya and Nadesalingam (also known as Nades) are asylum seekers who left Sri Lanka during the civil war and arrived separately in Australia by boat in 2012 and 2013. They were put on temporary bridging visas while their applications to stay in Australia as refugees were assessed. Priya and Nades were married in 2014 and they settled in Biloela, a rural town in the Shire of Banana in Central Queensland.

They legalised their traditional Tamil wedding with a ceremony at the Biloela Court House in 2014, and their two daughters were born in the town. They rented a modest, single-level house on Rainbow St. Nades volunteered in the local St Vincent de Paul opportunity shop before getting a job at Teys meatworks. They began to build a new home and life for themselves, free from the dangers of their Sri Lankan homeland. They had two daughters Kopika (who is now five) and Tharunicaa (now three) and became part of the local community who welcomed them.

More than three years after they settled in Biloela, Priya’s bridging visa expired. The following morning, at 5am on March 5, 2018, Australian Border Force immigration officers and police arrived at the family’s home, told them that their visas had expired and that they were being deported. They were initially taken to the Melbourne Immigration Transit Accommodation facility in the Melbourne suburb of Broadmeadows, and were transferred to Christmas Island Detention Centre in August 2019.

1000 days later, the local community in Biloela, along with various humanitarian groups and the family’s lawyers, have continued to fight for the family’s return.

Marie told Eternity that many people in Biloela’s Christian community have joined the fight to have Priya and Nades returned home.

Marie Austin is part of the #hometobilo campaign that began with a group of Biloela residents who came together to do whatever they could to help Nades, Priya and their girls stay in Australia. She told Eternity that last year members of the group were “just community members who know this family and see the injustice of their situation.”

Marie told Eternity that many people in Biloela’s Christian community have joined the fight to have Priya and Nades returned home, and have done everything they can think of to raise awareness of their friends’ situation. As for herself, Marie says she heard a sermon on the the Good Samaritan at her local Baptist church and “just felt like I needed to follow through on this feeling that I could help this family in some way”.

The family and the Biloela community have been forced to weather an arduous legal battle, as each family member’s individual case has been heard and appealed. An attempt to deport the couple and their Australian-born children was even dramatically prevented with a plane stopped in mid-air in August 2019 by a court injunction.

Now, the family’s future rests on whether the family’s youngest daughter, Tharunicaa, is granted a visa.

The Federal Court ruled in September 2019 that the younger daughter (and therefore also the family) should remain in Australia until the case goes to a final hearing. Then, on April 17, 2020, the Federal Court ruled that Immigration Minister David Coleman had taken a procedural step to consider using ministerial powers to allow Tharunicaa to apply for a visa, which now needs to be finalised. Ten days later, the Federal Government was ordered to pay A$206,000 in legal fees for Tharunicaa, as she had “not [been] afforded procedural fairness”. On October 14, the full bench of the federal court heart the federal government’s appeal that the fact the immigration minister sought a briefing on the Tamil family from Biloela days out from the 2019 election did not indicate he was considering allowing the youngest daughter to apply for a visa.

The government has maintained that the family is not owed protection by Australia. And in July, Immigration Minister Peter Dutton accused the family of playing “funny games” in the courts that had cost taxpayers more than $10 million, in a 2GB radio interview.

“This is a situation that is of their own making – it is ridiculous, it is unfair on their children – it sends a very bad message to other people who think they can rort the system as well,” he said.

Treatment of the Biloela family has put them at odds with the United Nations Human Rights Committee.

But the government’s account is in distinct contrast to the Priya and Nadesalingam’s accounts of the circumstances that caused them to flee their homeland and make a dangerous trip in order to seek safety.

In addition, treatment of the Biloela family has put them at odds with the United Nations Human Rights Committee, which asked the government “to transfer [the family] within 30 days into a community setting arrangement or to find another way to end their existing situation of detention,” back in October 2019.

Opposition leader Anthony Albanese has also urged Prime Minister Scott Morrison to show compassion, saying it “would not undermine Australia’s borders. It would simply be the very reason why there is ministerial discretion in the Act, to show compassion, to show that there are specific needs for this family.

“These people should be settled here in Australia. It won’t undermine the government’s migration policies. It will simply say that this is a government that is prepared to listen to what the community are saying and saying so strongly,” Albanese said.

Last month, an SBS report revealed that the family of four have had to share a bed for the nearly 14 months they have been held on the island.

“We have been given a small room, we don’t have any privacy,” Priya said. “It’s not a suitable place for a husband and wife to live together … It affects my mental health.”

She told SBS the cabin has no internet access, the washing machine facilities are frequently broken, the children have no outdoor play area and the family has to be escorted by guards outside of the centre – including to and from school.

The Biloela family’s case is just one of those that have caused the Australian government’s human rights record called into question – and that have captured the hearts of the Australian communities they live in, including local Christians.

A family from Kempsey NSW is currently facing deportation after the tragic loss of their husband and father Raj, who died from bowel cancer in September, and whose work visa had made a way for his family to live in Australia. The family has been an integral part of their church and school community since 2016, and are an immigration “success” story, locals told the ABC.

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