Contributed by Ben Wilson
The evacuation of three-year-old Tharnicaa to a Perth hospital for urgent medical treatment gripped Australia. Apparently, she is being treated for pneumonia that led to a blood infection.
This is the youngest daughter of the Kokilapathmapriya Nadesalingam (Priya) and Nadesalingam Murugappan (Nades). The family of four is being kept in detention as illegal refugees at Christmas Island.
Tharnicaa’s illness and evacuation demonstrate the lack of proper medical care faced asylum seekers. She had been sick for 10 days, with high temperatures , vomiting, and diarrhoea before anything was done about it. Her family had been calling for medical help and no one listened.
The government denies there were treatment delays. This doesn’t make sense. If there had been a proper response, the girl would not be so sick. And that the government continues to cover up, shows its total lack of basic decency.
The family are on Christmas Island because there was a refusal to give them all permanent residency after a temporary visa had run out of date. This is despite the family fitting in in the Queensland town of Biloela, and continuing campaigning by the town’s residents for their freedom.
In 2019, an attempt was made to deport them back to Sri Lanka, where they faced persecution. A last-minute injunction from the federal Court stopped the plane and the family have been prisoners at Christmas Island since. They were supposed to only be there for a short time until their appeal was heard. They are still waiting.
Photo by Angela Fredericks: The family before being taken to Christmas Island
Both Tharnicaa and her sister Kopika were born in Australia. What makes this case especially cruel is that it centres around the little girl being able to stay with her parents and sister. On a technicality, she is said to be an “unlawful maritime arrival,” and has no right to residency in Australia.
The sticking point is that the power to decide is in the hands of Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews, and the government has a long running zero tolerance policy. It sees that releasing this family will send out a signal that it is weak.
Opponents of the mandatory detention policy point out that the Australian government has a humanitarian obligation to provide humanitarian assistance to refugees from conflict and other major threats to their lives. Ignoring this obligation and incarcerating arrivals in concentration camps has caused much suffering to thousands of human beings.
The detention policy has been called an abuse of human rights. It has harmed Australia’s reputation overseas and encouraged a lack of compassion within sections of the Australian community, and this promotes racism and intolerance for those deemed to be a little different.
This is not what we should want to be.
A dose of humanity from the government could undo the damage.
In the meantime, the Morrison government could show a little courage and decency free Tharnicaa and her family and allow them to stay. There is a provision in the law that this can be done in the name of the public interest.