The Australian Federal Court has ruled in favour of the Tamil asylum-seeking Biloela family stating that two-year-old Tharunicaa was not “afforded procedural fairness” in making her application - a decision that prevents the family from being deported until the process is resolved.
Responding to the court’s decision a spokesperson for the Department of Home Affairs stated;
"Despite the judgment, the matter still remains before the court for the purpose of the parties agreeing on the orders to give effect to the judgment. Accordingly, it would not be appropriate to make any further comment at this time".
Whilst the Department of Home Affairs still reserves the right to a final decision on the case this positive ruling leaves open the possibility of Tharunicaa bridging her visa application which could mean that the family are reunited out of the detention centre and return to Biloela. There is a strong case for this given the court’s preference to keep families united.
The Biloela family's legal case
The Tamil asylum-seeking family, Priya and Nades Murugappan and their two Australian born daughters Kopika and Tharunicaa, were initially detained in Melbourne during an early morning raid in March 2018. They were detained after their four-year bridging visa expired.
Nades and Priya came to Australia separately by boat in 2012 and 2013 having separate asylum claims. Priya reported seeing her former husband burnt alive whilst Nades is fearful of returning to Sri Lanka due to his connections to the LTTE. Despite credible concerns over torture and extra-judicial killings in Sri Lanka, the Department of Home Affairs has repeatedly maintained that the family does not meet the criteria for protected status. Australian immigration law prevents “unauthorised maritime arrivals” but discretion can be placed in exceptional cases likes that of the Murugappan family.
Last August the government attempted to deport the family but was prevented by a last-minute injunction from the Federal Court which forced the plane carrying the family to land in Darwin.
The judge ruling on the matter, Justice Moshinsky, dismissed the first ground of appeals which claimed that a valid application for asylum was made for Tharunicaa in September last year but upheld a second appeal which maintained that Tharunicaa was not “afforded procedural fairness in her appeal for protection”.
Responses from their defenders
Angela Fredericks, a resident of Biloela and family friend has led the charge to keep the Murugappan family together in Australian. Speaking on the matter she described the court’s ruling as a “win” but further stated;
"The key thing that I want to continue to highlight is yes, while there are such severe complexities with the procedure and the legal process, this can actually be sorted out really quite simply if the minister would actually use his powers and listen to the people”
Fredricks further stressed the importance of the migrants such as Nades, an abattoir worker.
"We've got a small town that needs these people, and particularly with the current economic crisis, this would also be a really good news story right now", she said.
The Tamil Refugee Council welcomed the court’s ruling as a “small victory” but noted that the federal government needs to resolve this legal battle. They further noted that the cost of detaining this family has incurred astronomical costs. Last October it was revealed that the government had spent $27 million reopening detention facilities to which they were the only occupants.
Aran Mylvaganam, a spokesperson for the Tamil Refugee Council said on the matter;
"Devoting so many resources to deporting this one family not only imperils their future, it is a waste of taxpayer money – legal fees, staff at the Christmas Island detention centre, a charter flight to take them to Sri Lanka – that could be spent protecting lives and livelihoods in the current crisis".
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