Immigration

Mother of injured toddler held in Melbourne detention centre issues desperate plea

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The asylum seeker family of an injured Tamil toddler has urged the Home Affairs Minister to allow their to return to the Queensland community of Biloela.

The mother of a two-year-old Tamil girl injured in a Melbourne immigration detention centre has called on the Home Affairs Minister to intervene to end the family's 17-month detention.

Tharunicaa is recovering from what doctors have diagnosed as a mild head injury after a whiteboard fell on her on Thursday afternoon, advocates say.

The Department of Home Affairs disputes claims of a delay in treatment or any injury resulting from the whiteboard falling, but hospital documents show Tharunicaa was diagnosed with a mild head injury.

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3 May: Fears for child asylum seekers held in Melbourne
3 May: Fears for child asylum seekers held in Melbourne

The girl has been residing with her mother Priya, father Nadesalingam and sister Kopika in the Melbourne Immigration Transit Accommodation Centre for the past 17 months ever since the federal government relocated them after a dawn raid on their home in the Queensland town of Biloela in May last year.

Advocates claim treatment was delayed for at least five hours before Tharunicaa was transported to the hospital where she was kept for about three hours for observation. 

During the waiting period Tharunicaa vomited twice and acquired a swollen face.

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28 Feb: PM: Remaining children on Nauru have been transferred to the United States

Minister urged to reconsider

Priya told SBS's Tamil program the incident has been distressing for the whole family as the months in detention takes it toll. 

"My children have been distressed so long due to the detention. I wish a safe life for them; we were hardworking and law-abiding people all along.

"I plead the minister to reconsider and accept and allow us to live in Australia."

Supporters in Melbourne call for the family to be allowed to stay in Biloela, 24 June 2018.
Supporters in Melbourne call for the family to be allowed to stay in Biloela, 24 June 2018.

The protection claim for Tharunicaa is pending as the family waits for Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton to lift the bar on their application so it can be considered. The legal avenues have been exhausted for the protection claims of Priya and Kopika. Nadesalingam's application for protection has been rejected and his appeal options extinguished.

Priya and Nadesalingam came to Australia separately by boat in 2012 and 2013 following Sri Lanka's civil war and settled in town for four years on a temporary bridging visa, which ran out in March 2018. Both their children were born in Australia.

'Not a right place for my children'

Priya said the detention centre's activity room, where Tharunicaa was injured, has not been set up to accommodate toddlers. 

"There is no opportunity to play with other kids and no social exposure at all. My eldest daughter has been influenced by people who are in detention and rolling paper and started imitating smoking. I am so distressed by her changed behaviour.

"Since she has only been exposed to people in detention and their behaviour, she picks up those behaviour as she has no opportunity to interact with children of her age. I worry so much as this is not a right place for my children."

Dental decay, vitamin deficiencies

Tharunicaa is due to receive dental surgery for decaying teeth. A three-week wait period was indicated, but now it has been a month. 

Priya said both children are suffering from vitamin deficiencies.

"Tharunicaa has been suffering from dental decay and has been in pain for the last ten months and no treatment offered so far. Both children have vitamin deficiency and they take vitamin supplements.

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"Tharunicaa has been given same type of food for the last seventeen months and no other food offered; the detention facility is not conducive for children."

The head injury incident follows a refusal last month by detention centre authorities to allow Tharunicaa to have a birthday cake brought in by friends of the family for her second birthday in detention.

Angela Fredericks said the episode has contributed to the family's sadness.

"What killed us was that this little girl has been robbed of her childhood," she said.

Department denies any delay in treatment

Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton insists there are no children in detention, with the Department of Home Affairs classifying the living arrangements of Tharunicaa as happening within a residential precinct of an "alternative place of detention".

The Australian Human Rights Commission said in a report last month that even though such an arrangement is "far less harsh and restrictive", closed immigration detention "should never be used for children".

The Department of Home Affairs rejects claims there was delay in hospital treatment for Tharunicaa and said she had no injuries. 

"The Department can confirm an incident involving a whiteboard occurred, however, the child did not sustain any injuries from this incident," a statement from department read.

"Immediately following the incident the family was offered medical treatment several times and declined. At no point was the family denied medical care."

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