Australia under pressure to free refugee family detained on Christmas Island

image copyrightHOMETOBILO CAMPAIGNimage captionKopika (left) and her sister Tharnicaa have been detained by the Australian government for three years

Australia is under pressure to release a family from detention on Christmas Island after one of the children was medically evacuated to Perth.

Three-year-old Tharnicaa Murugappan has sepsis and pneumonia, friends say.

Her parents, Tamil refugees from Sri Lanka, arrived by boat in Australia nearly a decade ago seeking asylum.

The couple and their children were moved to the Australian outpost in 2019 after a court injunction ruled they could not be removed from the country.

The town of Biloela, where the family resided, has fought for them to stay, kicking off a legal battle that has dragged through the nation's top courts.

  • The family locked up by Australia for three years

On Monday, Tharnicaa and her mother Priya were medically evacuated to Perth after the three-year-old became increasingly unwell.

She had been sick for about 10 days, the family's lawyer Carina Ford told ABC News. Her condition did not improve and she was initially taken to hospital on Christmas Island.

"But then as a result it's been considered that it's safer for her to be transferred to Perth," Ms Ford said.

The evacuation of Tharnicaa has prompted outrage in Australia from those calling for the family to be rehomed.

"This family should not be in detention – they should be in their community in Biloela, opposition home affairs spokeswoman Kristina Keneally said.

No child’s suffering is worth any Prime Minister's ego or stubbornness.

It's time to let these two little girls come home to Biloela. They have been through enough.

— 💚🌏 Sarah Hanson-Young (@sarahinthesen8) June 7, 2021
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites.View original tweet on Twitter

The family's detention has also been criticised on Christmas Island.

"I don't think you'd find anyone on Christmas Island who thinks little kids should be kept in detention," Gordon Thomson, Shire President of the island said. "And what I hear from those who might not have been so sympathetic to refugees generally, is this is wrong and enough's enough".

On Tuesday, Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews said in a news conference that the government was "going through the process of investigating a range of resettlement options" for the family.

But Foreign Minister Marise Payne told Nine Radio that the two options being considered would be either the US or New Zealand.

Australia has tough immigration laws that allow it to lock up what it terms "unlawful non-citizens" like the Murugappans in indefinite detention.

Thousands of asylum seekers have been held in facilities off the mainland since 2013, when the government introduced "offshore processing" of those who arrive by boat. They wait there while their refugee claims are assessed, a process that can take years.

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