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Tamil asylum-seeker family 'suffering' in Christmas Island limbo


A friend of a Tamil family at the centre of a high profile legal battle to stay in Australia says the mental health of the family’s two young children is deteriorating as they wait for a new court date.

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Nadesalingam Murugappan, known as Nades, and Kokilapathmapriya Nadesalingam, known as Priya, and their two Australian born daughters Kopika, 4, and Tharunicaa, 2, had been living in Biloela, but in 2018 immigration officials transferred them to a Melbourne detention centre.

They remain in detention on Christmas Island after a last-minute injunction in 2019 on an attempt to deport them to Sri Lanka.

Lawyers for the Tharunicaa are now appealing a recent Federal Court decision that found she did not have the right to have her visa application automatically assessed.

Family friend Angela Fredericks said they were now waiting on a new court date to appeal the ruling, but the family is struggling, having spent the last two years in detention.

“We really have seen a deterioration in Kopika’s mental wellbeing,” she said.

“Priya has also been rather down the past few weekends when we’ve caught up.

“I think for her it’s that feeling of hopelessness.

“She can see the girls suffering and there’s not much within her power she can do to help them.”

Fredericks said it had been a challenging year for the family, with coronavirus restrictions limiting visitors.

“It’s very much isolated them even further,” she said.

“In the mean time for us it’s really about keeping the family’s spirit going.”

The Tamil family has fought and lost numerous court battles to remain in Australia, saying they fear persecution if they are returned to Sri Lanka.

Their current bid for asylum hinges on the case of the youngest daughter Tharunicaa, with lawyers arguing her claim for asylum had not been properly assessed.

The Federal Government has maintained the status of Tharunicaa is linked to that of the rest of her family, and their bids for protection visas were denied in 2017.

A decision on Tharunicaa’s case was delivered in April and Justice Mark Moshinsky ruled on two grounds — the first, that she did not have the right to have her application automatically assessed, and the second that she was “not afforded procedural fairness” in her asylum bid.

The family’s lawyer, Carina Ford, said the matter has now been appealed to the full Federal Court.

Family and Government to appeal both grounds

Fredericks said they were appealing the first ground in the hope Tharunicaa’s case would be assessed.

“It’s that first ground that’s actually going to enable Tharunicaa’s case to go back to the start of the process with the immigration assessment authority,” she said.

The Department of Home Affairs said the Minister is also appealing the Federal Court’s findings on ground twothat the girl’s case was not afforded procedural fairness.

On that ground, the Government was ordered to pay $206,000 of legal costs for the case.

Fredericks said because that decision was also being appealed, those costs would not be paid until another ruling was made.

“It was a really big win for us in terms of recognition that procedure hadn’t been followed fairly in this case,” Fredericks said.

“It did mean we were going to recover some of the cost. So while winning that round it wasn’t going to help proceed the case at all, it was a win for all the supporters across Australia.

“Because it actually meant we were going to have funds to keep going.”

– ABC / Rachel McGhee

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