Alex Hawke allows Murugappan family to stay in Perth for a year, but not to go home to Biloela

A close friend of the Murugappan family from Biloela says she is praying that Australia’s governmental leaders “won’t allow pride to stand in the way of compassion and that they won’t let harsh and cruel policies override truth and justice.”

“While we’re relieved to know that our friends are ‘safe’ for 12 months, this is still just a temporary arrangement and the threat of Priya, Nades and the girls being sent to an unsafe environment if they are deported hasn’t gone away,” said Marie Austin.

Immigration Minister Alex Hawke announced yesterday he would grant twelve-month bridging visas to Priya and Nades and their eldest daughter, Kopika. However, Hawke has chosen not to use his powers to extend the same provision to the family’s youngest daughter, Tharnicaa.

That means while the family can remain in Australia for the coming year, they must stay in Community Detention in Perth and can not return to their home in Biloela in Queensland.

“We are shocked that the government has decided to keep four-year-old Tharunicaa in community detention, therefore being a constant reminder to our friends that they aren’t ‘free’. They can’t come home to Biloela,” Marie told Eternity.

Marie is part of the #hometobilo campaign that began with a group of Biloela residents who wanted to do whatever they could to help Nades, Priya, and their girls stay in Australia. Austin first spoke to Eternity in 2019, describing how she had never considered the possibility of being involved in political activism until she saw the injustice experienced by her local Tamil friends.

“Our support for the family remains firm, and as Christians, the very least that we are required to do, right up there with loving God, is to love our neighbours. Although Priya and Nades have come here from another country, they are our neighbours. God’s word contains many verses about how we should look after foreigners,” Austin said this afternoon.

“We are shocked that the government has decided to keep four-year-old Tharunicaa in community detention, therefore being a constant reminder to our friends that they aren’t ‘free’.” – Marie Austin

Under section 195a of the Migration Act, the Immigration Minister has the power to grant Queensland-born Tharnicaa a permanent visa and freedom from community detention. Labor politicians are among those criticising Alex Hawke for not using those powers in Tharnicaa’s case.

“There’s nothing preventing you for allowing the Murugappan family from going #HomeToBilo. Nothing. It can be done at the stroke of a pen. Now” tweeted Andrew Giles MP.

“With the stroke of a pen @AlexHawkeMP could’ve simply let the Biloela Family go #hometobilo. He has the power! 12-month bridging visas is good news, but using Tharni to keep them in Perth – 4,500 kms from Bilo – is unfair. Bilo loves them and wants them home,” tweeted Kristina Keneally.

Since June, the Murugappan family has lived in Perth when Tharnicaa was flown there for urgent treatment of sepsis she acquired in detention on Christmas Island.

Angela Fredricks is a family friend and spokesperson for the #hometobilo campaign of Biloela residents who want to see the Tamil family return to their Biloela community. She said the family is relieved and grateful for the visa extension to stay in Perth, but they are also upset they can not return to Biloela.

Fredricks described the decision as “giving with one hand and taking for another”.

“They just want to go home,” she said.

Fredricks said that four-year-old Tharnicaa was in the meetings with her family when the news was received and was upset not to have received a visa, even though she does not fully understand the situation.

Tomorrow marks 1,300 days since guards forced the family from their Biloela home. Tharnicaa was an 8-month-old baby at the time.

At 5 am on March 5, 2018, Australian Border Force immigration officers and police arrived at the family’s home, told them that their visas had expired the previous day and that they were being deported. They were initially taken to the Melbourne Immigration Transit Accommodation facility in the Melbourne suburb of Broadmeadows and then transferred to Christmas Island Detention Centre in August 2019.

Since then, the Tamil family has continued to fight for the opportunity to return home to Biloela in a protracted court battle with the Australian government.

Australian church and charity leaders from many denominations have spoken to support the family being allowed to stay in Australia, calling on the government to show compassion.

“We stand in solidarity with this young family seeking peace, safety and stability, and with the Biloela community who are waiting to welcome them back home,” wrote dozens of Anglican bishops in an open letter in June.

“The Australian people have been voicing a rightly deep compassion and concern for this family in asking for them to be able to stay and be part of our Australian community. As Christians, we feel our faith compels us to join this large chorus of voices. The Christian faith asks us to give special consideration to the most vulnerable in our world. To children. To people who find themselves homeless because of fleeing danger,” wrote Baptist leaders in another.

“I urge you to show compassion and end the continued appeals engaged in by the Australian Government in order to deny this family a home in a regional community in Queensland that has welcomed and accepted them,” wrote Reverend Andrew Gunton, Moderator of the Uniting Church in Australia, Queensland Synod.

Today, Mare asked Christians to continue to stand in solidarity with the family and to pray.

“We will continue to advocate for Priya, Nades and the girls every single day until their safety and wellbeing is guaranteed,” Marie said.

“Please continue to pray for the family, but also pray for our leaders, that they won’t allow pride to stand in the way of compassion and that they won’t let harsh and cruel policies override truth and justice.”