The lawyer for a Tamil family that has been detained on Christmas island has expressed scepticism at the prospect of her clients being resettled in New Zealand or the United States.
Immigration Lawyer Carina Ford told SBS News on Wednesday the family has received no communication about the resettlement options after government ministers appeared to canvas the possibility.
Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews on Tuesday hinted at the possible resolution saying “a range of resettlement options” were being considered in response to a question about the family’s situation.
Foreign Minister Marise Payne separately expanded on Ms Andrews’ comments, indicating the US and NZ were possible resettlement options.
“I do know that the Minister for Home Affairs, Ms Andrews, has indicated that there are two options there and the United States and New Zealand are both in the frame,” she told Sydney radio 2GB.
Ms Ford said she had no awareness about the two countries being considered for resettlement as the government continues to reject pleas they be allowed to remain in Australia.
“As a lawyer I would want to know far more and see what’s actually being offered,” she told SBS News.
“It’s just hard to know was it a throwaway line that other things are up for discussion or is there something more concrete.”
The family, which consists of parents Priya and Nades, three-year-old Tharnicaa and sister Kopika, five, have been detained on Christmas Island since August 2019 after an urgent court injunction blocked their deportation to Sri Lanka.
Renewed attention has been placed on the family’s situation after Tharnicaa was medically evacuated for treatment at Perth Children’s Hospital on Monday with a suspected blood infection, with her mother by her side.
On Tuesday, Ms Andrews was questioned about her power as a minister to intervene in the family’s case to release them from detention.
“We are going through the process now of investigating a range of resettlement options in relation to a number of different circumstances here in Australia,” she told reporters.
“I can’t make public commentary on that at the moment because I don’t want to disrupt those negotiations.”
SBS News approached Ms Andrews’s office on Wednesday to seek clarity on her comments but was told she had nothing further to add on the matter.
Pathway to resettlement option unclear
It is unclear how any potential resettlement deal would play out given the government’s long-standing opposition to recognising the family’s protection status.
Priya and Nades came to Australia separately by boat in 2012 and 2013, where they gave birth to their two daughters.
The family was taken from its home in Biloela in central Queensland and placed into custody by Australian Border Force officials in 2018 after their visas expired.
The Department of Home Affairs has repeatedly said that the family’s case has consistently been found not to meet Australia’s protection obligations.
While the federal government does have an ongoing offer from New Zealand to resettle 150 refugees being held offshore detention, Ms Ford has confirmed the Tamil family is not a member of this cohort. It means any resettlement deal would rest on separate ministerial intervention.
“We have written to the department to ask whether there is actually something concrete in place and we haven’t had a response yet,” she said.
“It is with the minister currently to consider using their powers.”
Similarly, the family would not qualify for a separate deal with the US, which has agreed to take up to 1,250 refugees from Australia’s offshore system in exchange for Australia accepting refugees from Central America.
Lawyer wants family released into community
A protracted legal battle to secure the family’s right to remain in Australia currently hinges on whether the three-year-old Tharnicaa has the right to apply for protection.
In February, the full bench of the federal court upheld an earlier ruling that found Tharnicaa was not given procedural fairness when her application for a protection visa was assessed.
Ms Ford has questioned why the family can’t be released to the community while other considerations play out.
“There is no reason why consideration of permanent options can’t be done whilst there in the community,” he said.
“We are actually saying look enough is enough – the Australian community wants them home in Biloela.”
The Department of Home Affairs has been contacted for comment.