Australian authorities have continued the detention of a Tamil asylum-seeking family from Biloela, which has spanned over a thousand days, despite the concern of the Australian Medical Association (AMA) which has called for their release until their legal case has been finalised.
An estimated 700 healthcare professionals have signed an open letter, supported by the AMA, expressing concern over the harm detention is inflicting upon the detained children, Kopkia, aged five, and Tharunicaa, aged tree.
Dr Omar Khorshid, President of the AMA, warned in a statement that:
“The first 2,000 days of life is critical for children, and early childhood experiences have lasting effects. Continued detention is most likely causing these two little girls avoidable developmental harm."
Detention of Tamil-asylum seekers
Australia’s draconian asylum policy has posed a significant barrier for Tamil refugees seeking asylum in Australia. The government, despite significant evidence of the threats posed to Tamil refugees, has insisted that Tamil asylum-seekers are “economic migrants”.
In 2012, Sri Lanka was the largest source of boat arrivals to Australia, the government only accepted 11.6% of applicants. 37% were deported on the basis of a single interview, writes Amita Arudpragasam. Approximately 4,500 Sri Lankan asylum seekers came to Australia between 2009 and 2013. A further 2,000 people have died over the past two decades trying to reach the country.
Priya and Nades Murugappan, parents of Kopika and Tharnicaa, were amongst those who fled Sri Lanka taking boats separately in 2012 and 2013. In March 2018. They were detained in Melbourne during an early morning raid, they had overstayed their four-year bridging visa.
Since their detention has begun in 2018, local community members have rallied behind them running fundraisers and carrying political campaigns calling to "bring them home to Biloela."
Read more about these efforts here.
“Please let us lead a normal life in Biloela”
Priya has reported fearing a forceful return to Sri Lanka, noting that she had seen her former husband burnt alive. Nades similarly fears violence due to his connections to the LTTE. Speaking at a digital rally held earlier this year, Priya expressed her concerns stating:
“It is very dangerous for us in Sri Lanka. The Rajapaksa government is very bad for Tamils. They have killed so many people, including my family members. We are very scared of going back to Sri Lanka […]
Please let us lead a normal life in Biloela”.
The family is currently being detained in a one-bedroom cabin, with no access to the internet and frequently broken washing machine facilities and no outdoor play area. The children are escorted by guards outside of the centre, including to and from school. They are not permitted to visit friends or invite them over.
In October 2019, Australia’s Department of Home Affairs reported that the cost of keeping the family in detention was $4.5 million, this includes $2.5 million in detention costs, $1.1 million in travel, and $300,000 in legal costs.
The dire conditions in Australia’s detention centres have left asylum-seekers 200 times more likely to self-harm than the average Australian. Since 2000, at least 12 individuals hoping to migrate to Australia were suspected to have died by suicide while in detention
Dr Khorshid has reported speaking directly with Australia’s Home Affairs Minister, Peter Dutton, appealing for their release until the legal case is resolved.
“The ongoing legal process and associated delays are compounding the harm to these children and prompt resolution of the case one way or the other will be in the interest of all parties, including taxpayers who are funding the extraordinary cost of their detention on Christmas Island," he said.
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