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Australia Biloela residents rise in darkness to mark three years since Tamil family taken into detention

23:45  04 march  2021
23:45  04 march  2021 Source:   abc.net.au

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a young boy standing on a sidewalk: The couple's Australian-born daughters Kopika and Tharnicaa have spent three years of their childhood in detention. (supplied) © Provided by ABC NEWS The couple's Australian-born daughters Kopika and Tharnicaa have spent three years of their childhood in detention. (supplied)

As dawn broke over the central Queensland town of Biloela today, more than 20 residents gathered by candlelight to mark three years since a Tamil asylum seeker couple and their two Australian-born children were taken into immigration detention.

"5:00am was when their world changed," family friend and Biloela resident Angela Fredericks said.

In 2018, Priya and Nades Murugappan and their daughters, five-year-old Kopika and three-year-old Tharnicaa, were removed from their Biloela home and taken to a Melbourne detention centre by immigration officials.

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They have been held on Christmas Island since August 2019, when an urgent injunction stopped them from being deported to Sri Lanka mid-flight.

"We've had four immigration ministers since this family has been detained and so we're just going straight to the top now and the message is clear. It's bring them home to Biloela," Ms Fredericks said.

Dawn-to-dusk vigils have been planned for the day in more than 15 regional towns and capitals including Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, Canberra, Adelaide, Perth, Hobart, Darwin, Bundaberg, Newcastle, Port Macquarie, Armidale, Warrnambool, Moruya and Christmas Island.

"I think it really signifies this family may have started here in Biloela, however [they've had] love and support as they've been taken to every which place in Australia," Ms Fredericks said.

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"They've gone to Melbourne, Perth, Darwin and now Christmas Island and it doesn't matter where they've gone, that connection and that fight in Biloela has still stayed strong."

Last month, the family's lawyer, Carina Ford, said the girls were the only children in an Australian immigration detention centre.

"Kopika was two and Tharnicaa was seven months when they were taken from Biloela and they're now five and three," Ms Fredericks said.

"They've essentially spent three years behind bars for committing no crime.

"Their lives … I would ultimately say they've been destroyed just in terms of the amount of stress that has been put on that family. [We're] seeing physical repercussions of the trauma, developmentally what this has done to the girls.

"There's the damage and the trauma that has been put on this family and at the same time, the love that this family has been shown, not just from their friends here in Biloela but people right across the nation who have come behind them."

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Anne Smith, a family friend of the Murugappans, remembers the day three years ago when the family was taken.

"I was at school, and I got a message from my daughter to say the family had been taken from the house. I was devastated with the way it had happened," she said.

"You've got to imagine if you have a seven-month-old baby, and you're about to give her a bottle, and you're told you've got 10 minutes to pack up what you need. Most people couldn't pack for a holiday in 10 minutes."

Ms Smith has spoken to the family several times since they were removed.

"Kopika is almost six, and she's asking every day 'why am I in this prison?'" she said.

"I pray every night that our politicians will see reason and let this family go home."

Biloela resident Debra Felly hoped today's vigil achieved one thing.

"A flick of the pen, to let them come back," she said.

"It's ridiculous that we live in a country like we do, and they won't allow it. It's like they're making an example of them."

Lorraine Webster remembered the children playing in her neighbourhood.

"Let's hope we can end this soon for them," she said

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"Give the little girls some life, some friend time, some Australian time that we're used to having, that we know we can have, we know they should have."

Lawyers consider next steps

Last month, the Federal Court upheld a previous ruling relating to the immigration status of their youngest child, leaving the family in limbo on Christmas Island.

Lawyers have been calling on the federal government to immediately release them from detention since the latest decision was handed down.

"[It has been] three years that the family has been in detention and that's probably not proportionate to the fact that they've had appeals running and consideration for their release really should be granted," Ms Ford said.

Lawyers are still considering whether to launch another appeal to the High Court.

"It looks like the minister isn't going to appeal the ground that they lost on, so there is a process that is being undertaken in relation to that," Ms Ford said.

"We've again written to [Immigration] Minister [Alex] Hawke, this time, because he wasn't the minister at the time, again asking for their release because that's a separate power — it's called section 195A of the act.

"We've been asking if that could be arranged irrespective of the legal options going on because obviously that could go on for a considerable period yet."

No further dates have been set down for legal proceedings.

While Ms Ford said the minister had a duty of care to ensure anyone in detention was safe and well, there was no guarantee the family would remain on Christmas Island.

"They're not probably safe from removal if the minister decides to remove them now," she said.

"There are still two ongoing matters, one that's likely to settle and one that's potentially ongoing.

"It's a complex case as to the other applications that are surrounding it because some of them are the consequence of the first decision in favour of the applicant."

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