Australia releases Sri Lankan family from island detention
Australia’s conservative government will allow the release of a Tamil asylum-seeking family from the Christmas Island detention center in the Indian Ocean, officials said Tuesday.
The Sri Lankan family of four, who were living in the small Queensland town of Biloela before their detention, have been the center of a campaign that sought the shutdown of Australia’s offshore asylum detention camps.
Public anger grew recently after the 4-year-old daughter was flown to Perth for medical treatment for a blood infection, and only her mother was allowed to travel with her.
Immigration Minister Alex Hawke said the family would stay in Perth while they exhaust their legal options, as the government came under backlash over its handling of the case.
“In making this determination, I am balancing the government’s ongoing commitment to strong border protection policies with appropriate compassion in circumstances involving children in detention,” Hawke said in a statement
Australia’s hardline immigration policies prohibit anyone who arrives by boat from staying in the country permanently.
The Murugappans arrived in Australia by boat separately in 2012 and 2013. They have not been accepted as refugees.
Hawke said he had not yet decided if the family would be granted an exemption to apply for alternative visas.
But their lawyer, Carina Ford, said they were “relieved” at being reunited and leaving detention after more than three years on Christmas Island and in Melbourne.
Priya and Nades Murugappan and their Australian-born daughters Kopika and Tharunicaa will now be allowed to live temporarily in Perth.
“They are the only children in an Australian immigration detention center,” Australia’s national broadcaster ABC quoted Ford as saying.
‘Home to Bilo’
The Murugappans’ neighbors in Biloela waged a campaign for them to remain in Australia, giving their case national prominence.
The “Home to Bilo” campaign said the government’s decision was “the first important step in getting them home” to the Biloela community.
Support has grown for the family’s case, with an online petition urging the government not to deport them to Sri Lanka gathering over 500,000 signatures.
fb/nm (AFP, Reuters)