A two-year-old in immigration detention has been denied hospital care as her Biloela community continues its 17-month battle to keep a beloved family from deportation. Executive editor Michelle Pini reports.
LAST WEEK (July 4), two-year-old Tharunicaa, the daughter of Tamil asylum seekers Priya and Nades, was struck on the head by a whiteboard at the Melbourne Immigration Transit Accommodation Centre in Broadmeadows.
Family friend and advocate Angela Fredericks spoke to Independent Australia about the incident and the 17-month battle her community has been fighting to keep this beloved family from deportation.
“A manager at the centre ignored the concerns of a guard and refused to allow Tharunicaa to be taken to hospital for over five hours, despite her vomiting soon after the incident."
But first, let us recap the family's journey that led them to be incarcerated in Broadmeadows, Victoria.
Imagine living happily as you raise your two young children, working, contributing to your community and enjoying friendships and life in rural Biloela, Queensland.
Without warning or explanation, your family is ripped from your home under cover of night by armed police officers and placed in detention, 1800 kilometres away. You do not know how long you must remain here.
You are refused basic rights and freedoms. You are now unable to work or move outside the compound. Visitors must be drug tested and searched for weapons.
In this prison, your children, once free, happy and thriving, are now suffering from vitamin D deficiency due to lack of sunlight, and malnutrition due to the inadequate diet. This has such a physical impact, your two-year-old’s teeth are rotting, to the point she urgently needs surgery, but you are not a citizen. You and your children – although they were born in Australia – are in detention and so, your baby is on a waiting list for treatment.
On her second birthday, she is even denied a birthday cake because the candles are deemed a "fire risk".
You dare not think of the psychological consequences for two-year-old Tharunicaa, or her four-year-old sister Kopika, that growing up in prison – denied schooling or normal social interaction – is having on their formative years.
During the 17th month of your family's detention, while playing innocently in the internment camp’s recreation room, a heavy whiteboard, not properly fixed to the wall, falls and strikes your two-year-old. She is hurt and likely concussed. She vomits. Access to medical care is denied. Only after vomiting a second time, seven and a half hours later, is she finally taken to hospital.
Upon her return from the hospital at 5.30am, she is having trouble walking. Her coordination is off. She is taken to hospital again, for scans. You are now beside yourself with worry.
How did you come to be imprisoned awaiting deportation? What is your crime?
Seeking asylum. Not, in fact, a crime but an inalienable right under international law.
Angela Fredericks told IA the ongoing struggle Priya and Nades have been battling since their (separate) arrival in Australia. Nades was originally permitted to stay here under a "Safe Haven" visa and he was actively volunteering in the community. Priya was here on a "Bridging" visa while her case for asylum was heard. She had to reapply every three months and did so. Their children, although born here, are not automatically Australian citizens.
When they married, Nades was allowed to work and began doing so at the Biloela Abattoir. They soon became valued members of their Biloela community.
Nades and Priya sought asylum in Australia in fear for their lives.
This family is beloved in our community. They are the salt of the Earth. They have fallen through the cracks.
The Immigration Department prepared to deport them, saying their visas had expired but, in fact, the paperwork was in place. Only legal intervention saved them from deportation because their claims hadn't been heard yet.
Nades' family in Sri Lanka has already been paid a visit by officials. They fear for their lives if they are returned...
Minister Dutton said that Priya and Nades knew they hadn't received asylum when they had children. But since their application for asylum hadn't been heard yet, this implies that the Department was never going to grant them asylum.
Minister Dutton has said that this family are 'not refugees' and that:
'They were told before they had children that they were not going to settle ever in Australia, and they resisted that at every turn.'
However, their applications for refugee status had not yet been heard when the children were born.
Everyone's exhausted. We are all just tired. Our pleas and 198,500-strong petition have been blatantly ignored. We just want our beautiful family brought back home. And we have support right across Australia ... this is a bipartisan issue.
All the legal avenues have been exhausted. Our only hope now is ministerial intervention.
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