Australia

'Heartbreaking': Mother from detained Biloela Tamil family evacuated from Christmas Island for medical treatment

Mother Priya Murugappan has been evacuated from Christmas Island for medical treatment. Source: Supplied

Priya and Nades Murugappan - and their two Australian-born children Kopika and Tharunicaa - have been detained on Christmas Island since August last year.

There are concerns for the Biloela Tamil family controversially detained on Christmas Island after mother Priya Murugappan was evacuated for medical treatment.

Priya and Nades Murugappan - and their two Australian-born children Kopika and Tharunicaa - have been detained on Christmas Island since August last year when a court injunction prevented their deportation to Sri Lanka until legal proceedings were finalised.

Suffering from "severe abdominal pain", Mrs Murugappan was flown off Christmas Island on Saturday evening to be treated at a Perth hospital, with a need to undergo an urgent CT scan, the family’s lawyer Carina Ford told SBS News.

Kopika (right) and Tharunicaa, the daughters of the Biloela Tamil family at the detention centre on Christmas Island.
Kopika (right) and Tharunicaa, the daughters of the Biloela Tamil family at the detention centre on Christmas Island.
Supplied

Ms Ford said Mrs Murugappan had been unwell since mid-June and was admitted to a hospital on the island on Thursday.

“There was a discussion as early as that as to whether this scan was needed, and we obviously knew that it couldn’t have been done at Christmas Island,” she said.

“A decision was made by the department not to do it early and she has got increasingly unwell.”

Ms Ford said concerns were raised about the medical capabilities on the island in February when the detention facility was used to quarantine families returning to Australia from abroad.

“One of our concerns raised then was, it isn’t a tertiary hospital, there isn’t the equipment there for an emergency and this is exactly what has ended up happening.

“That’s where it’s really disappointing, having mentioned this on several occasions, that we’ve now got to this point that she’s been transferred to the mainland and even more disappointingly so, without her children and husband with her.”

Ms Ford said her legal team were awaiting medical reports regarding Mrs Murugappan’s current condition and that it was "heartbreaking" to split the family up.

“[Nades is] distraught about the fact that he is on Christmas Island and she is now in Perth, this is the first time the family has been separated, they have lived literally together since March 2018, since they were first detained.

"You can imagine how distressing it is for him and unsettling for their household.” 

Ms Ford said the family were the only detainees on the island, and life was getting "more difficult" for them. 

"They had the worry of COVID, but I acknowledge there hasn't been an outbreak on Christmas Island. 

"There's also the isolation and the children, in particular, the older child has really started to struggle, she's at an age where she knows that this is really not normal to live in those circumstances."

Angela Fredericks, a friend of the family from Biloela, criticised the ongoing detention of the Murugappans.

"At a time when Australia is facing an economic emergency, it’s completely unjustifiable to spend such money on the continued detention of our self-sufficient friends," she said.

"If the family were on mainland Australia they could have easily arranged for the scan that Priya needs.

"The financial cost of this exercise, coupled with the traumatising effect of separating Priya from her husband and children is just plainly wrong. I hate to think how much this latest debacle is costing Australian taxpayers."

The family were removed from the rural Queensland community of Biloela in March 2018 and taken to a Melbourne immigration centre after their four-year bridging visa expired.

Nades and Priya arrived in Australia by boat separately in 2012 and 2013. Both have claimed different reasons for seeking asylum from Sri Lanka. Priya reported being forced to watch her former husband be burnt alive.

In August last year, the government attempted to deport the family before a last-minute Federal Court injunction forced the plane carrying the family to land in Darwin.

From there they were moved to the recently re-opened immigration centre on Christmas Island, an Australian territory located approximately 350 kilometres off the Indonesian coast.

Ms Ford said there were currently two appeals relating to the family's case, the first to be heard later this year. 

When asked about the transfer, the Department of Home Affairs told SBS News it "does not comment on individual cases".

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