SYDNEY — When immigration police arrested the Murugappan family, including two infant daughters, in a pre-dawn raid March 5, 2018, in Biloela, working people in the small central Queensland country town started a fight for their right to stay. Supporters organized protest rallies and an online petition signed by over 550,000 people.
Nades and Priya, Tamils who arrived here in 2012 and 2013, met and married in Australia. They were refugees fleeing the war in Sri Lanka between the government and Tamil independence fighters. They settled in Biloela where the father, Nades, worked in the local meat works. Although granted temporary visas, their refugee status was rejected by immigration authorities.
Successive Australian governments have tried to discourage asylum-seekers arriving on boats by “closing the door” to any permanent settlement in Australia. The two Murugappan daughters, Kopika and Tharunicaa, are designated as “illegal maritime arrivals” like their parents, though both were born in Biloela. Unlike in the U.S., being born in Australia doesn’t confer citizenship.
Following their arrest the family was held thousands of miles away, first in Melbourne then, for almost two years, at the remote Christmas Island immigration detention center in the Indian Ocean. Finally, an injunction was won against the family’s deportation.
After a public outcry, Tharunicaa, now 4 years old, was belatedly evacuated to Perth for urgent medical treatment. Nades, Priya, and Kopika, now 6 years old, were given three-month “bridging visas” allowing them to work and study in Perth, some 2,700 miles from Biloela. Angela Fredericks, a leader of their supporters in Biloela, welcomed the government retreat, but said “There is still no certain pathway home” for the family. Their fight continues.