Supporters outraged as Biloela Tamil family is transferred to Christmas Island


Supporters of a Tamil family facing deportation from Australia have voiced their dismay after they were moved to Christmas Island overnight.

A Tamil asylum seeker family has been transported to Christmas Island after being given a reprieve against deportation from Australia until Wednesday.

Supporters said they lost contact with the family on Friday night, and learned just after 2am that they had arrived at a detention centre on the island, northwest of the Australian mainland.

Priya, her husband Nadesalingam and their Australian-born children Kopika, 4, and Tharunicaa, 2, had been held at a Darwin military base.

Priya was able to make contact with family and friends when they arrived at Christmas Island.

"My children have been separated from their world," she said.

Spokesperson from support group ‘Home of Bilo’ Angela Fredericks told SBS News that the family was being held in a room at the facility containing four bunk beds, and that they had not received an update on any potential future transfers.

Ms Fredericks said it was an “absolutely confusing” move by the government.

“I don’t understand what they are trying to do to this family, how much trauma they want to subject them to,” she said.

“We went to bed last night thinking they are safe in Darwin only to be awoken at 2am with the call that they were on Christmas Island, so [we're in] absolute disbelief at the cruelty of this system that is doing this to these innocent people."

Nadesalingam-Priya family
Priya, her husband Nadesalingam and their two Australian-born daughters are now facing deportation.

The family's lawyer Carina Ford said moving detainees without warning isn't unusual, but "the transfer to Christmas Island is not normal".

"It definitely makes our job harder and it's disappointing," Ms Ford said, describing new logistical issues as "frustrating".

She is now waiting to hear back from lawyers for Immigration Minister David Coleman about how the family's legal team will be able to have access to their clients, including getting documents signed.

Government minister Zed Seselja told ABC the assessment process is "pretty fair" but added he understood individual cases "can be very difficult".

But Labor senator Katy Gallagher called the transfer cruel and called for compassion.

"The minister has the capacity to intervene in special circumstances. I think there is no doubt this family qualify for that," she told ABC.

Biloela Resident Angela Fredericks
Biloela Resident Angela Fredericks
SBS News

The move comes after a judge issued a last-minute injunction to halt their deportation from Melbourne to Sri Lanka on Thursday night.

The family landed in Darwin after the order was made and were taken off the plane.

On Friday, there was another glimmer of hope.

A Melbourne court ordered the government not to expel the youngest child until a further hearing on Wednesday.

The family's legal team say only Tharunicaa is protected under the ruling, because her claims for asylum protections have never been assessed.

The rest of her family could be expelled as their legal avenues have been exhausted but Ms Fredericks said Australia would be condemned if it split up the family.

“We would hope that our government would not separate a child from their family, I do not believe our government would do that. We’re relieved that the four of them are together,” Ms Fredericks said.

The activist group will hold vigils in support of the family across Australia on Sunday.

“[We want to] show this government they can put an ocean between us and this family but we still see them, we’re still here with them and our love for this family is never going to waiver. We will continue to make our voice heard,” Ms Fredericks said.

“I have faith and hope in Australia. I have hope that what this case is showing us is that Australia believes in people and Australia believes in standing up for people. I pray and I hope that our government is going to hear that message and respond in kind.”

Despite mounting community pressure, Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton is refusing to budge.

"I would like the family to accept that they are not refugees, they're not owed protection by our country," he told the Nine Network on Friday.

Watch: Lawyer speaks about Biloela Tamil family case.
Watch: Lawyer speaks about Biloela Tamil family case.

Mr Dutton said the deportation had been years in the making and should surprise no-one, least of all the couple who had been warned prior to having children that they would not be allowed to stay.

When asked for further clarification, the Department of Home Affairs told SBS News that as the matter is before the courts it would be inappropriate to comment further.

Additional reporting: AAP

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