Tamil family bound for community detention

Kopika (right) and Tharnicaa, the daughters of the Biloela Tamil family, will be reunited soon.
Kopika (right) and Tharnicaa, the daughters of the Biloela Tamil family, will be reunited soon.

A Tamil asylum-seeker family that has been detained on Christmas Island for the past two years will be reunited on the Australian mainland.

But the Murugappan family is no closer to returning to their Queensland home in Biloela despite being allowed to live in community detention in Perth.

Immigration Minister Alex Hawke on Tuesday responded to rising political pressure stemming from four-year-old Tharnicaa's hospitalisation for pneumonia and sepsis.

He granted the family permission to move to Perth but is yet to make a decision on whether any of the family members can reapply to stay in Australia.

"Today's decision does not create a pathway to a visa," Mr Hawke said.

"I will consider at a future date whether to lift the statutory bar presently preventing members of the family from reapplying for temporary protection, for which they have been previously rejected."

Mr Hawke claimed granting a permanent visa to the family would "absolutely" start a flood of people-smuggling boats.

There is no obvious pathway for the family to return to Biloela, where they lived before being taken into immigration detention.

Tharnicaa's mother Priya is with her at Perth Children's Hospital but her father Nades and six-year-old sister Kopika are still on Christmas Island.

A charter flight has been sent to collect them and is expected to land in Perth on Tuesday evening.

Labor has joined with the Biloela community in calling for the family to be returned to their Queensland home.

"The government has kept four-year-old Tharnicaa in detention most of her young life," Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese told parliament.

"The Biloela community has made it clear that they want Tharnicaa's family to come home. Why won't the government let this family go home to Bilo?"

Acting Prime Minister Michael McCormack described the situation as difficult and challenging before launching an attack on Labor over border protection.

"When we took government in 2013 there were over 8000 children in detention centres. Labor put more beds in detention centres than they ever did in hospitals," he told coalition colleagues.

The family has been locked up since 2018 while their fight against deportation has gone through the courts.

Mr Hawke said he was balancing the government's commitment to strong border protection with appropriate compassion for the children being held in detention.

"The family will now reside in suburban Perth through a community detention placement, close to schools and support services, while the youngest child receives medical treatment," he said.

The decision sparked an extensive debate in the coalition party room, with members of the Morrison government deeply divided on the outcome.

Family friend Angela Fredericks said their release was more than three years in the making and she hoped community detention was only a temporary step.

"Community detention is no guarantee of safety and peace for this family," she said.

"Australia knows this family's home is in Biloela."

The family will be able to stay in community detention after Tharnicaa is released from hospital and remain in Perth until their legal case is resolved.

Australian Associated Press