Tamil family depart WA bound for Biloela

Nick GibbsAAP
VideoMurugappan family leaving Perth for Biloela.

The family of Tamil asylum seekers held in detention for more than four years have finally begun their journey home to the central Queensland town of Biloela.

Speaking from Perth Airport on Wednesday, mother Priya Nadesalingam thanked the community in WA, where the family has spent the past 12 months, before beginning the journey east.

“Me and my family are very happy to start our journey back to my community in Bilo,” she said.

Ms Nadesalingam also thanked staff at Perth Children’s Hospital who treated her daughter Tharnicaa for a blood infection after she was medically evacuated from Christmas Island last year.

The timing of the journey means Tharnicaa will celebrate her fifth birthday in Biloela on Sunday. She was just nine months old when the family first entered detention.

Priya, her husband Nades and their Australian-born daughters Kopika, 6, and Tharnicaa, 4, are expected to arrive in the central Queensland town on Friday afternoon.

Biloela will celebrate its Flourish multicultural festival on Saturday, which is likely to double as a welcome home.

The family has been through protracted legal proceedings in a bid to stay in Australia and were moved from Melbourne to Christmas Island before arriving in Perth.

A change in government has paved the way for their return to Biloela.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said he was proud the family was returning home.

“We grabbed this family in the middle of the night, took them down to Melbourne, then took them to Christmas Island, then they’ve ended up in Perth,” he said on Wednesday.

“These little girls, who were born in Australia, have got not just mental health issues but physical health issues as well.”

The family was taken from Biloela in March 2018 and put in immigration detention, kicking off a more than 1500-day campaign from locals to get them back.

Nearly 600,000 people signed Home to Bilo campaigner Angela Frederick’s Change.org petition in support of the family, and more than 53,000 phone calls and emails were made to Australian politicians from the family’s supporters across the country.

In 2019, courts blocked a coalition attempt to send the family back to Sri Lanka.

They were held at the Christmas Island detention centre for two years until then-immigration minister Alex Hawke moved them to community detention in Perth in mid-2021.

Following the change of government, interim Home Affairs Minister Jim Chalmers exercised his power under Section 195A of the Migration Act to allow the family’s passage home.

“The effect of my intervention enables the family to return to Biloela, where they can reside lawfully in the community on bridging visas while they work towards the resolution of their immigration status, in accordance with Australian law,” he said last month.

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