Saturday, October 16, 2021

Australia pressured to free Tamil refugee family detained on remote Christmas Island

The family of 'unlawful non-citizens' were transferred to the island from Queensland, where they had settled.

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Australia is under pressure to release a family from detention on Christmas Island in the Indian Ocean, after one of the children was medically evacuated to Perth with sepsis and pneumonia, the BBC is reporting.

Three-year-old Tharnicaa Murugappan’s parents, Tamil refugees from Sri Lanka, arrived by boat in Australia nearly a decade ago seeking asylum.

The couple and their children were moved to the Australian outpost in 2019 after a court injunction ruled they could not be removed from Australia.

Residents of the town of Biloela in Queensland, where the family had settled, has fought for them to stay, kicking off a legal battle that has dragged through the nation’s top courts.

On Monday, Tharnicaa and her mother Priya were medically evacuated to Perth after the three-year-old became increasingly unwell.

She had been sick for about 10 days, the family’s lawyer Carina Ford told ABC News. Her condition did not improve, and she was initially taken to hospital on Christmas Island.

“But then it’s been considered that it’s safer for her to be transferred to Perth,” Ford said.

The evacuation of Tharnicaa has prompted outrage in Australia from those calling for the family to be rehomed.

“This family should not be in detention – they should be in their community in Biloela,” opposition home affairs spokesman Kristina Keneally said.

The family’s detention has also been criticised on Christmas Island, which is closer to Asia than Australia, and nicknamed the Galapagos of the Indian Ocean.

“I don’t think you’d find anyone on Christmas Island who thinks little kids should be kept in detention,” Gordon Thomson, Shire President of the island said. “And what I hear from those who might not have been so sympathetic to refugees generally, is this is wrong and enough’s enough.”

On Tuesday, Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews said in a news conference that the government was “going through the process of investigating a range of resettlement options” for the family.

But Foreign Minister Marise Payne told Nine Radio that the two options being considered would be either the US or New Zealand.

Australia has tough immigration laws that allow it to lock up what it terms “unlawful non-citizens” like the Murugappans in indefinite detention.

Thousands of asylum seekers have been held in facilities off the mainland since 2013, when the government introduced “offshore processing” of those who arrive by boat. They wait there while their refugee claims are assessed, a process that can take years.

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