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Biloela family triumph should inspire amnesty for other refugees

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Immigration Minister Andrew Giles has expressed determination in ensuring the Murugappan family return to normal lives (Image by Dan Jensen)

With the return of the Murugappan family to Biloela, the Albanese Government has shown that amnesty is possible for bridging visa holders, writes Fabia Claridge.

TODAY IS A DAY of rejoicing for thousands of Australians as Priya, Nades, Kopika and Tharnicaa return to Biloela. Their long journey of suffering and abuse and today’s fanfare return to Biloela have been a very public affair.

It is a story that resonates with us on a deeply human level, almost a fairy tale, complete with a Dark Lord. But today, media around the country celebrates the compassionate action of a minister of the Government. Social media is bursting with outpourings of goodwill, both for the Murugappan family and the new Minister for Immigration, Andrew Giles.

We congratulate the community of Biloela and the team of volunteers and friends behind this campaign for their tireless, dogged pursuit of this outcome. We feel proud to be a generous, compassionate Australia.

Now the party is over, we must ask ourselves what happens next. Will the White Knight complete his task of giving permanent residence with a clear pathway to citizenship? Minister Andrew Giles has the power — will he use it?

In a statement on Twitter, Giles said:

‘As Immigration Minister, I am also thinking about how we can finally resolve this, so the family can rebuild their lives in Biloela with the certainty they deserve. I am being briefed on the options available to best achieve this and will make my decision as soon as possible.’

But as we wait for the outcome, let us spare a thought for the thousands of others – families, sons, daughters, husbands, fathers, mothers – who are in the same predicament as the Murugappan family. They are the victims of a flawed and biased system. Their identities have been deliberately kept secret. We know also that they have lived in fear of deportation to danger.

Many, like the Murugappan family, come from danger zones and are from persecuted groups. We know from our own experience that they can be called in to Home Affairs and told, “It will not go well for you if you speak in public”. They suffer in fear and silence. It is not our place here to reveal the identity of those who we do know. But we can tell you this much — many Australians have been vicariously traumatised by witnessing abuse perpetrated by the state upon their friends.

We have had friends suicide from despair, from indefinite detention, from the threat of deportation to danger, staying with us in our home one day, re-detained and dead the next. We have seen families ripped apart, a mother falling to the ground with her newborn as her baby’s father was driven away in a closed van to be deported to danger. Will this reign of terror stop now? We certainly hope so.

Bridging visas fall into a number of categories with different conditions. Not all of them are related to people who are asking Australia for safety. There is a huge backlog and copious red tape; a big mess at the Immigration Department with a “no can do” ethic. It needs fixing urgently.

Labor has already promised to give permanent residence to people holding Temporary Protection visas and Safe Haven Enterprise (SHEV) visas and we applaud this. We understand that the process will take time, but we are here to ensure there is no slacking off.

Would Australians really feel overrun if other families just like the Biloela family take up permanent residence? After all, they are already here eating, sleeping, working by your side, sitting on the train next to you and paying taxes. They just need security and safety so they can help build a better future for everyone with no one left behind, just as Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has promised.

Australia has voted for change. Let’s embrace it. This is who we are and this is our ask.

People Just Like Us, a refugee advocacy organisation based in Australasia, is calling for an amnesty for all refugees on bridging visas to be given permanent residency along with the TPV and SHEV holders.

There are several refugee cohorts.

Joyce Fu of People Just Like Us has said:

No one should be punished for the way they came to this country. It is impossible to get a proper visa to come by plane if fleeing from war or persecution. Under international humanitarian law, those asylum seekers who have come by boat should be treated equally and fairly. This accords with the Refugee Convention to which Australia is a signatory.


Those refugees suffering under our cruel national refugee policies are entitled to get an amnesty and get on with their lives.


We need to ensure no one is left behind. The goal is to clear all backlogs created during the last 20 years of persecution.

Moreover, Australia needs the contribution of migrants and refugees on all levels.


There has been a hiatus in immigration over last the past two years, creating even more capacity. Migrants of all categories need to have certainty so that they can become contributing members of the community. Permanency is more efficient than continually processing short-run visas.

Among the refugee cohorts are those trafficked and dumped in PNG and Nauru. This is an “off-water matter” and needs very urgent attention. Despite their paper status, they should be included in the one-off amnesty for the caseload backlog. They have suffered enough at the hands of the Australian state and the New Zealand deal as it stands does not address the urgency of their need for rescue not on sea but on land. 

It could be argued that they have the right to seek asylum for a secondary claim of persecution by the Australian state. The Minister has the power. He needs to use it. He has the mandate to do so.

People Just Like Us calls for a one-off intake of refugees stranded in Indonesia

The cohort of refugees in Indonesia is clearly within the purview of Australia since they have been warehoused there for almost a decade at the behest of Australia and at our expense. They are about 13,700 in number. Half are Afghan. There are many stateless Rohingya also.

Previous Australian governments have paid to maintain a secretive network of detention centres throughout Indonesia via the International Organisation for Migration (IOM). Some of those have now been closed but refugees are still trapped there with no work rights, no study rights and no right to travel internally within Indonesia. Indonesia is not a signatory to the Refugee Convention. It also has a huge population that is being lifted out of poverty.

This is the “other” Park Hotel. It is an open prison. People cannot plan a future or get on with their lives. There have been many suicides due to desperation and despair. It is a system deliberately designed to steal hope, something essential to all humans. There are daily protests on the streets and bashings by police. Sadly, during Prime Minister Albanese’s visit to Makassar, some of our friends were locked up so that they could not protest. This is disappointing in a democracy.

By making a visit to Indonesia a top priority this week, Prime Minister Albanese and Foreign Minister Penny Wong established that they hold our collegiate relationship with our near neighbour in high esteem. Both in Asia and in the Pacific, they understand it’s time for Australia to embrace equality and end the arrogant colonial behaviour of the previous government.

By all means, trade and “people-to-people ties” can be increased but to do this while turning a blind eye to families suiciding on the streets is not what we voted for. It is both neighbourly and strategic to resolve this backlog of suffering on our doorstep.

That is why People Just Like Us is calling for a one-off intake of refugees from Indonesia to clear the backlog at the source. This is where the boats come from. Give people an option and they will never risk their own precious life on a boat. Time and again, we have been told that.

Moreover, with the hiatus in migrant intake over the past few years, it is a perfect time to do this. Australia currently needs all sorts of workers, both skilled and unskilled. A Labor government is also great at delivering training and the intake could be done in a couple of stages.

In next to no time, these people can be running your local restaurant, painting your toenails or looking after grandma. They could be the doctor in a country practise or the real estate agent who gets you a good deal on a flat. They could even be holding a hose or driving a forklift.

A one-off intake of refugees from Indonesia can demonstrate Australia’s willingness to reset the whole future of regional cooperation in the refugee space, not to deter but to manage the flow of people through the region that has always existed by eventually developing a regional solution. An important part of this is to decouple refugees from national security concerns. This false narrative has not served Australia well and has debased our whole nation. 

With the upcoming visit of New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and our new Prime Minister’s recent trip to Indonesia, what could be a better time for initiating a first big step to the resolution of the refugee stalemate in our region with a one-off intake from Indonesia?

Fabia Claridge has been involved in the refugee movement for 20 years, most recently as Co-convenor of People Just Like Us, a small and agile NGO comprising members from diverse backgrounds.

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