Australia

Nadesalingam family ‘very happy’ to be home in Biloela after four years in immigration detention

Four years after they were removed from their home in a , the Nadesalingam family has returned home to their adopted home town of Biloela.
The family arrived in Biloela on Friday afternoon, where they were greeted by supporters, many of whom have campaigned for years for their release.

There were emotional scenes at Thangool Airport as Priya, Nades, Kopika and Tharnicaa set foot onto Biloela soil. Priya fell to the floor, sobbing, arms up in the air, thanking God she was home.

The Nadesalingam family arrived home in Biloela on Friday afternoon. Source: SBS News

Priya and Nades took their time tightly embracing their loved ones who have been in their corner for the last four years during their time in detention.

Woman holding yellow sign reading 'welcome home'

Jayne Centurian waited at the airport to welcome the family home. Source: SBS News / Rayane Tamer

“Me and my family is very happy,” Priya told reporters on Friday.

“Thank you to all in (the Bilo) community and our friends. I (am) starting a new life…. so happy.”
A grassroots campaign run in the central Queensland outback town – which has a population of about 6,000 – led to to grant the family bridging visas to allow them to reside in the community while their immigration status is determined.
Woman holding sign which reads 'welcome home to Bilo'

Marie Austin has been a long time supporter of the Nadesalingam family. Source: SBS News / Rayane Tamer

Under the previous Coalition government, the family had been on bridging visas in community detention in Perth, but not allowed to return to Bioela.

The local mayor, Nev Ferrier, from the Banana Shire Council, says those involved in the local campaign never thought it would take four years to bring them back to the community.

“The overwhelming feeling I have is relief really,” he told SBS News.

“When it (the campaign) started four years ago, it was pretty hard work. The women and families behind it – to go for four years. It looked like they were never going to get a win.
“To come around at the end of this is terrific.”

The Tamil asylum seeker family, who are also known as the Murugappans, settled in Biloela in 2014, living there for four years before the dawn raid over their expired visas precipitated four years in immigration detention, including time spent at the Christmas Island detention facility.

Priya and Nades married in Australia after fleeing Sri Lanka’s civil war, arriving separately on people smuggler boats in 2012 and 2013, before going on to have Australian-born children Kopika and Tharnicaa.
They were detained on Christmas Island in August 2019 after earlier detention on the mainland while they sought refugee status in the courts.
The family pleaded for ministerial intervention in their situation to grant them a permanent visa to remain in Australia, which the then Morrison government refused.
Before the 2022 election, Labor promised to grant the family a permanent visa – through ministerial intervention.

Once in Biloela (from 2014), the family embedded themselves in the community, getting to know residents and participating in English-language classes. Nades worked at the local abattoir.

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Resident Anne Fredericks, mother of the Home to Bilo campaign’s Angela Fredericks, said many people in the community felt very strongly about the family’s return after getting to know them.
“They have been through horrific times in the past – and the trauma, that’s going to take them a long time to get over,” she said.

“I think there is going to be a long healing process, but they will be surrounded by people who love them.”

Mixed feelings in Biloela community, resident says

A local resident who only wanted to be called Jenny said there have been mixed feelings among some in the community who did not know the family personally.
“I’m very pleased they’re coming back. I think they have been through hell,” she said.

“I think the people that were anti (the family returning) were anti in the beginning. The people who were passionate about their return remained so.”

A local who gave his only his first name, Alex, said he did have ambivalent feelings about the family as he heard about their battle over their immigration status.
“I do realise there is a really split opinion about it, like I understand the reason why you want to come here and get away, but I don’t know the full circumstances.

“I’ve heard some second-hand stories. And from what I’ve heard, it sounds like they’ve sort of tried to come to Australia and didn’t really do it through legit reasons. If they want to come across, that’s fine, just do it the right way. Because what about the people who still are in the bloody camps waiting to come to Australia?”

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The long-term future of the family remains uncertain.
Refugee advocates have called on the federal government to ensure the family is issued with permanent visas.
“We’ve got our fingers crossed,” Ms Fredericks said. “Hopefully they get permanency so they can move forward.”

With the family’s legal options exhausted, a decision on the issue of permanent visas would need to come from the immigration minister or home affairs minister.

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