Rally for Priya

Refugee advocates rally for Priya. Photo by Paddy Cullen.

ABOUT 50 protesters gathered at Fiona Stanley Hospital on Monday night demanding a Tamil refugee and her family be returned to their home in Biloela, Queensland. 

Priya Murugappan had been detained on Christmas Island with her husband Nades and two children since 2019 but was transferred to Perth last week after complaining about severe abdominal pain for several weeks.

Danila Dilba Health 

Service senior medical officer Iyngaranathan Selvaratnam said Ms Murugappan had already faced “inordinate delays and denials of specialist treatment” while in detention and now had to endure emergency medical procedures without the support of her family, who remain on the island. 

Australian Border Force officials have limited her husband Nades’ access to Wi-fi in the detention centre, preventing the couple from making video calls, sending photos or using social media to keep in contact.

Fremantle Refugee Rights Action Network founder Janet Parker said the rally was an essential show of support for the Murugappans through the medical issues, but also had a broader agenda.

“In the short term, our urgent demand is that Priya and her family be returned to the town of Biloela to enable them to live a good life,” Ms Parker said.

“The only life the children know is that of being prisoners.”

The couple arrived in Australia separately in 2012 and 2013 on temporary protection visas, settling in Biloela and raising two children while Mr Murugappan worked in the local meatworks.

They were taken into custody by ABF officers, police and Serco guards during a dawn raid in 2018, and following a series of court cases and appeals which determined they weren’t genuine refugees, the couple were taken to Christmas Island in 2019.

Detention

“In my opinion, offshore detention centres need to be closed not only for the benefit of refugees, but it is also way cheaper for the government,” Ms Parker said. 

There is no economic, political or humanitarian sense in locking people up on Christmas Island.

“Our government is a signatory to the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and it is expected that we will afford safety to people who are fleeing persecution, yet instead we are locking people up,” Ms Parker said.

Human Rights organisations say Sri Lanka remains a dangerous country for minority groups, particularly following the election of Gotabaya Rajapaksa as president in November 2019.

Ms Parker called for the Australian government to end its relationship with Sri Lankan, saying Mr Rajapaksa’s previous term in office saw a genocidal campaign which saw many Tamils killed or arbitrarily detained.

“Our government continues to support governments like this and I think this needs to be examined,” Ms Parker said. 

Dr Selvaratnam said Ms Murugappan is highly critical of the staff from International Health and Medical Services on Christmas Island, saying they showed little care in wanting to diagnose the actual cause of her severe pain. 

He said her symptoms could have been from a number of life-threatening conditions and Christmas Island’s medical facilities were pretty basic. 

by KRISTEN RICCIARDI

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