The Biloela Family’s Child Was Hospitalised, Now People Are Demanding Australia Bring Them Home

The three-year-old girl was left untreated for nearly two weeks.

Biloela Refugee Hospital

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Outrage is growing over the detainment of a young asylum seeker family from Biloela, as their three-year-old was medically evacuated to a Perth hospital after suffering with health issues for nearly two weeks.

Tamil parents Nadesalingam and Priya Murugappan, and their two daughters Kopika and Tharnicaa, have been detained on Christmas Island since 2019. Tharnicaa reportedly has septicaemia, but those close to the Murugappans believe it’s not the only infection she’s battling.

“We’ve had word from Priya that the doctors have said it’s untreated pneumonia, so that’s very worrying,” Simone Cameron, a member of the ‘Home to Bilo’ advocacy group told Junkee. “They’ve got her on an IV drip with antibiotics in hospital.”

The Murugappans are more commonly known as the ‘Biloela family’ after the rural town in Queensland they previously lived in. Priya and Nadesalingam sought asylum respectively in 2012 and 2013, from their home country Sri Lanka after years of war and conflict, according to Home to Bilo.

On May 5, 2018, the Australian Border Force forcibly removed the family from their Biloela home in the early hours of the morning with 10 minutes notice to pack.

“It’s mouldy, it’s dusty, the facilities are completely lacking…”

Despite thousands of protestors rallying against their deportation across the country, they were soon deported, and became the sole occupants of a 400-bed detention centre.

“We know a lot about their living conditions,” said Cameron . “It’s mouldy, it’s dusty, the facilities are completely lacking — you add on the stress of long-term detention and there’s really nothing surprising about this little girl being desperately unwell.”

Cameron, who has been in regular contact with the family, said they are incredibly distressed at the moment. When she spoke to Tharnicaa last night via video call, she was “crying for her Papa” because only her mother was allowed to accompany her.

Both her parents and the wider community have been left wondering why she was untreated for so long despite experiencing temperatures over 40 degrees, vomiting, diarrhoea, and dizziness.

“Why did it build up to this when Priya and Nadesalingam were definitely pushing hard to get some more conclusive investigations of what was going on with Tharnicaa for the past 10 days?”

Cameron said that doctors on the island were giving the child painkillers, but dismissing her state as being ‘fine’. She thinks it’s coincidental that the delay in Tharnicaa’s medical evacuation overlapped with a news crew being on Christmas Island around the same time, prompting heightened security around the family.

“We are actually wondering, were they putting off treatment for Tharnicaa because they didn’t want the media to access the family? If it’s true, it’s absolutely disgraceful that they would put the reputational issues of the government ahead of Tharnicaa’s health.”

Cameron points out that if Priya and Nadesalingam were still in Australia, they would have been able to seek same-day healthcare once they identified something wrong with Tharnicaa. Instead, she explains that the parents had to go through security guards and officials to request medical advice on Christmas Island, and that they were rebuffed on multiple occasions.

I can’t do this anymore, I can’t keep making this okay for my daughters.

She describes the family as resilient and selfless, always reassuring their friends over the phone that they’re okay, and asking how others in the Biloela community are holding up. But in the last few weeks, she’s noticed a crack in Priya’s resolve.

“She said ‘I can’t do this anymore, I can’t keep making this okay for my daughters’, because it’s really hard to keep up a brave face [for] the little girls.”

“There’s nothing about this situation that’s had to go on so long,” said Simone. “It’s a no brainer — they could have been kept in the community, working, living freely.”

The Department of Home Affairs said in a statement that health services on Christmas Island are ‘broadly comparable’ with Australia’s public health system, and that the ABF provides access to nurses, doctors and specialists for those in immigration detention.

“The government has been absolute about their rules, when the immigration system has the room for quite a bit of flexibility when it’s needed, and it’s needed here,” said Cameron.

“I don’t think anybody else in Australia who has children, or who knows children, thinks that it’s adequate, and that’s why it is sort of striking.”

A vigil for Tharnicaa’s recovery is being held outside Perth Children’s Hospital on Wednesday, June 9.