Biloela Tamil family case back in court as children face second Christmas in detention

Legal proceedings for Priya, Nadesalingam and their two Australian-born children continue on Monday, with lawyers fighting their deportation from Australia as they remain on Christmas Island.

As Monday brings another court hearing for the Tamil asylum seeker family currently being held on Christmas Island, their lawyer has a simple message.

"Don't forget about this family," Carina Ford told SBS News.

Priya, Nadesalingam and their two Australian-born daughters have been held on Christmas Island since August, while they fight their deportation from Australia.

The couple came to Australia separately by boat in 2012 and 2013 following Sri Lanka's civil war before having Kopika, four, and Tharunicaa, two. 

They settled in the small Queensland town of Biloela for four years on a temporary bridging visa, which ran out in March 2018.

The family was then taken to a Melbourne detention facility where they lived until August, when the government attempted to deport them but was stopped by a court injunction.

They were then taken to Christmas Island - an Australian territory in the Indian Ocean, south of Java - with the Federal Court ruling they could remain 'in Australia' until the case is heard.

Final hearing date could be set

On Monday, a directions hearing will be held in the Federal Court in Melbourne for the family.

The family won't be present and Ms Ford said it will be a "largely procedural" affair "to determine further steps to be taken".

But, she said, "it may deal with a final hearing date".  

The case rests on the youngest child, Tharunicaa, and her right to apply for a protection visa. The other family members have had their claims rejected.

Ms Ford said the hearing is an important reminder to Australia that the "isolated" family are the only individuals being held in Christmas Island's detention facilities.

"The frustrating part is, in most cases when you're running litigation in Australia you are not required to remain in detention, you live in the community, you contribute to the community, as they were doing before," she said.
"Why can't they be in the community while this is going on? There's really no logical reason that they can't be."
"They're not a security threat. They are a family with two young children ... And even if they needed to be in detention, there is absolutely no reason they need to be on Christmas Island."

Ms Ford said the government is keeping them there "probably to make a point" about border security.

But, she said, one positive was Kopika has now been able to "gain access to kindergarten outside of the detention, on the island".

Government stands firm

SBS News contacted the Department of Home Affairs about why the family is being held on Christmas Island.

A spokesperson pointed to Australian Border Force Commissioner Michael Outram's comments at Senate Estimates in October.

"Christmas Island was an option for me as the best place to manage the safety and security, subject to being able to satisfy myself that the family were able to access services, that the amenity there was suitable for children of the family and that we'd be able to manage any remote issues," he said at the time.

He said Melbourne detention was unsuitable as "I thought that protest activity caused a particular sort of risk to safety and security".

Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton has repeatedly said the family will not remain in Australia.

In September, he controversially accused the parents of having "anchor babies" and said the case is costing taxpayers "literally millions of dollars".

"It's been made very clear to them at every turn that they were not going to stay in Australia and they still had children."

He has also said 1,500 other Tamils who arrived in Australia by boat have "safely" been deported back to Sri Lanka.

The family claims they would face persecution in Sri Lanka because of past family links to the banned Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.

The Tamil Tigers separatist group were proscribed as a terrorist group by 32 countries during their insurgency against the Sri Lankan government. The militants were effectively defeated in 2009, after 26 years of bloody conflict.



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