Shadow Immigration and Home Affairs Minister Kristina Keneally has given a grim insight into the lives of a Tamil family living in detention on Christmas Island.
The Sri Lankan family are living in “a box with two rooms” after being “forcibly” removed from their home in Queensland and taken to an immigration detention centre.
The Labor frontbencher visited the family on the weekend after an outrageous battle with former Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton last week to gain access.
Ms Keneally has previously called out Prime Minister Scott Morrison for allowing the “cruel and inhumane” saga to continue at a $50m cost to the taxpayer.
In a statement obtained by news.com.au, she said she had “several chances to see the family, including in the immigration detention centre where they live, at the Christmas Island Recreation Centre, and at the Catholic Church on Sunday morning”.
Speaking to media from the Australian territory on Tuesday, she told the ABC’s Fran Kelly that despite the inquisitive and smart nature of the kids during the current hardships, the family “is dead” in detention.
Speaking to Sky News, Ms Keneally said it was clear the family was struggling mentally.
“They live in two rooms, they have basically a box with two rooms,” she told political editor Andrew Clennell.
She said both of the rooms were bedrooms, “but really one bedroom for them functions as where they keep all their clothes and their belongings”.
“The fact of the matter is they are effectively living in isolation. Clearly Priya, the mother, is lonely and depressed.”
Nades and Priya Murugappan came to Australia by boat in 2012 and 2013 respectively.
They settled in Biloela, a town of about 6000 in Central Queensland, and started a family, having Kopika, now 5, and Tharunicaa, 3.
They were taken into detention in 2018 after they were denied a visa that would have allowed them to stay in Australia.
The Federal Court judgment said the parents were considered “unauthorised maritime arrivals” under Australian law.
Although their daughters were born in Australia, their parents’ immigration status also made the two girls “unauthorised maritime arrivals”, the judgment said.
Ever since, they have been waiting in detention to learn the outcome of a Federal Court fight to avoid deportation.
“The youngest child is only three years old, she was taken into immigration detention by the government when she was eight months old,” Ms Keneally said.
“She has known nothing else in her life except living behind bars and under guard.”
In her statement, Ms Keneally said: “The girls are like any other Australian school kids I’ve met. They have Australian accents and they are bright and sweet and well-mannered. I thoroughly enjoyed playing and chatting with them.”
In February, the court ruled their fight was successful, and the family can stay in Australia for now.
But they will remain on Christmas Island in detention, as only the Minister for Immigration can grant their visa application and allow them to return to Biloela.
Ms Keneally has been calling on Mr Dutton’s replacement for the Home Affairs portfolio, Karen Andrews, to use ministerial discretion and release the family back to their community “with the stroke of a ministerial pen”.
“When it comes to border security, both major parties support offshore processing, boat turn backs where it is safe to do so, and regional resettlement,” Ms Keneally said.
“The question is not how we manage the borders going forward – Labor and the Coalition are agreed. The challenge is that there are people who have been in Australia for nearly a decade who are settled, building businesses and families, and who can’t go back due to wars, closed borders or persecution.
“We need a way to resolve these issues.
“Right now, the borders are closed, Australia’s refugee intake is exceptionally low, and there is a town in regional Queensland that is ready to welcome this family home.
The Department of Home Affairs at the time said it was aware of the decision and was considering the implications.
“The Australian Government’s policy is clear; no one who attempts illegal maritime travel to Australia will be settled here,” it said in a statement.
“The family’s claims to engage Australia’s protection obligations have been comprehensively assessed on a number of occasions by the Department of Home Affairs, various merits review bodies and appealed though multiple courts including the Federal Court to the High Court.
“At no time has any member of the family been found to be owed protection.”