Australian authorities have finally granted permanent residency to the Nadesalingams, an Eelam Tamil family of asylum seekers who have faced years of legal battles to avoid deportation to Sri Lanka.
The family – Priya, Nades, Tharni and Kopi – were removed by Australian authorities from their home in Biloela almost four years ago. This week, Australia’s Immigration Minister Andrew Giles announced they had been granted permanent residency.
“At last we feel peace,” said Priya in a statement. “I am so grateful to minister Giles for granting us this permanency.
“Now I know my daughters will get to grow up safely in Australia. Now my husband and I can live without fear.”
Though supporters of the Biloela family were celebrating, there was still fear for many other Eelam Tamils, including those who remain asylum seekers or have attempted to flee Sri Lanka.
"This decision follows careful consideration of the Nadesalingam family’s complex and specific circumstances," said Giles.
Shadow Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews criticised the decision, stating that it “undermines the policy that if you come here illegally you will never settle in Australia".
"Actions have consequences and this sets a high-profile precedent," she said.
However Giles defended the move and claimed Australia’s policy remains robust. "For anyone who attempts to migrate via an unauthorised boat to Australia – you will be caught, returned or sent to a regional processing country," he said. "I do not want people to die in a boat on a journey when there is zero chance of settling in Australia… This has not changed since the last government. We are not considering changing this policy."
Simone Cameron, a friend of the Biloela family, said “the plight of this family has opened Australians’ eyes to the cruelty of this country’s refugee policy”.
Priya and Nadesalingham fled the Tamil genocide in Sri Lanka, arriving separately by boat in Australia in 2012 and 2013. Under the migration act, they were both classified as "irregular maritime arrivals". They were introduced to each other by mutual friends and went on to marry and settle in Biloela. Soon they welcomed two daughters into the world Kopika in 2015 and Tharnicaa in 2017.
Their troubles began when they were taken from their homes by Australian immigration officials to immigration detention in Melbourne. The family has faced many trials in the 4 years since they were removed from Biloela. However, the town rallied behind them and tirelessly campaigned for their return.
“This family have endured multiple traumatic deportation attempts and have withstood the debilitating physical and mental health impacts of prolonged detention,” added Cameron.
“We can never give that lost four and a half years back to them. But we can, and we must, ensure that we never treat people like this again.”