Flood of gifts sent to Christmas Island as Biloela family prepares for third holiday season in detention

Australians around the country have banded together to send gifts and cards to a Tamil asylum seeker family, whose youngest daughter has never spent Christmas outside of immigration detention.

A Tamil asylum-seeker family is "nervous" about entering community detention in Perth after two years on Christmas Island.

A Tamil asylum-seeker family is "nervous" about entering community detention in Perth after two years on Christmas Island. Source: Supplied

A flood of cards and gifts have been sent to remote Christmas Island, as Australians band together to brighten Christmas Day for an asylum-seeker family who are spending their third holiday period in detention.

Priya Murugappan, her husband Nades, and their two Australian-born daughters - Kopika, five, and Tharunicaa, three - are the only family detained on the Island, located about 150 kilometres off Indonesia’s coast.

They live in a separate facility to hundreds of detainees who are awaiting deportation due to criminal convictions. 

The Tamil couple arrived in Australia separately from Sri Lanka in 2012 and 2013 before settling to a new life in the small Queensland town of Biloela. They say they are unable to return to Sri Lanka due to the threat of persecution. 

They have now spent more than 1,000 days in immigration detention. 

Friends of the family are encouraging people to send them messages of support ahead of Christmas.
Source: Home to Bilo/Facebook

Tharunicaa, the youngest person in Australian immigration detention, has never experienced a Christmas outside in the community.

Their plight, which is currently before the courts, has galvanised friends and supporters from the small town, and around Australia, who are calling on Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton to grant the Tamil family an exemption to remain in the country. 

“We are just overwhelmed with the amount of people who have been contacting us, asking for the address, asking what they can send [to the family],” said friend Angela Frederiks, who has led the campaign to return the family to Biloela

“So I know there are lots of amazing words and messages on their way.”

Due to the remote location of the island, which is closer to Indonesia than the Australian mainland, mail is only delivered twice a week.

The final delivery for Christmas dispatches on Friday.  

An Australia Post spokesperson said there were currently no delays for mail or parcels destined for Christmas Island, but advocates are encouraging people to send their messages via express post to ensure the packages arrive before Christmas Day.

“Someone actually made them some … handmade dolls, so really thoughtful gifts. For little Kopika, who is desperately missing going to the shop, it satisfies some of that desire to see pretty things,” Ms Frederiks said.

“Little things like Santa photos that you see parents capturing with their children, these girls are not going to have those memories and I find that incredibly sad.”

Earlier this year, SBS News reported that the family were not able to leave the detention centre without being escorted by guards, including when Kopika is taken to school on the island.

The children are also not permitted to visit friends or invite them over to their one-bedroom cabin, where the family shares a bed.

“I like going to school and I don’t like [it] here. I want to go to Biloela. I want to go shopping and I want to go in my dad’s car,” Kopika said during an earlier interview with her mother.

The family’s future currently rests on the outcome of a Federal Court case, which is investigating whether Tharunicaa was denied procedural fairness in her asylum application. All other family members have exhausted their options before the courts.

In April, the court ruled that procedural fairness had not been given when Immigration Minister David Coleman considered lifting the bar stopping Tharunicaa from applying for a visa - a decision that is currently being appealed by the government. 

A Department of Home Affairs spokesperson said the Australian Border Force regularly reviewed the suitability of the family’s detention placement and found it to be adequate.

The family has access to health and welfare services, including age-appropriate education for the children and recreational activities,” they said, including picnics, sightseeing excursions, children’s dance and yoga classes.

“As this family still has matters before the courts, it would be inappropriate to comment on the specifics of their legal circumstances.”

Published 10 December 2020 at 3:39pm, updated 10 December 2020 at 3:41pm
By Maani Truu