Sinking to new lows on asylum seekers

It’s hard to fathom why a government would deny timely medical treatment to four-year old Tharnicaa, whose Tamil parents fled Sri Lanka by boat almost a decade ago.

By all accounts, untreated pneumonia has led to sepsis in the child and now she and her mother Priya are under 24hr guard in the Perth Children’s Hospital as she fights for her life.

It’s impossible to imagine what kind of threat this family poses to Australia, why they were removed from the supportive rural Queensland town of Biloela in a dawn raid, why they have been imprisoned for four years, the last two isolated on Christmas Island, why they cannot have visitors, why their prison is a run-down tin shed and why NZ or the US should take them when Australia will not.

There are around 50,000 Tamil speakers living in Australia, 20,000 of them from Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka’s 26-year civil war ended in 2009 but around 1 million people were left displaced and in refugee camps. Leaving that aside, this globally reported and long-running case would likely mean the family would be at risk if sent to Sri Lanka.

The cost of their detention on Christmas Island from August 2019 to end January 2021 was $6.7 million. That money would have been spent on better resourcing the immigration officials and courts to process cases in months rather than years and allowing the family to live and work in the community rather than being locked up.

The Guardian reports this week:

The family won a full federal court appeal in February, with the court upholding a ruling that the government’s handling of Tharnicaa’s visa application had denied her procedural fairness.

The federal government has not appealed the ruling but there are now two briefs before the immigration minister, Alex Hawke, to consider whether to lift the bar preventing Tharnicaa from making a visa application, and a case to release the family into community detention.

The home affairs minister, Karen Andrews, has the power to intervene at any point and allow the family to remain in Australia. Asked whether she was prepared to use those powers in relation to their situation on Tuesday, she indicated resettlement options were being examined.

Surely it’s time to say this family, especially the children, has been through enough?

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