An Australian-born toddler is fighting a life-threatening disease at a hospital in Perth as advocates for migrants and refugees press Australia’s government to take action on her family’s long-drawn-out resettlement case.
Three-year-old Tharunicca Murugappan, whose family is of Tamil origin from Sri Lanka, was medically evacuated on Monday from the immigration detention centre on Christmas Island to Perth Children’s Hospital, two weeks after she caught a blood infection, which is believed to be linked to untreated pneumonia.
Tharunicca’s mother, Priya, accompanied her to the hospital, while her father, Nadesalingam, and elder sister, Kopika, remain in detention on the island, which is south of Indonesia’s Java and has been described by rights groups as a prison-like camp.
Priya was quoted by news reports as saying that medical workers at Christmas Island repeatedly refused to allow her youngest daughter to be taken to the hospital.
“I want to thank everybody for their love and good wishes,” Priya said in a video message as she cradled her daughter.
“We hope that Tharunicca can get the help she needs now. Please, help us to get her out of detention and home to Biloela.”
WATCH: Priya has released a video message from Perth Children’s Hospital, where little Tharni is being treated for a blood infection caused by untreated pneumonia.
— HometoBilo (@HometoBilo) June 8, 2021
Supporters of the Murugappan family are scheduled to hold candlelight vigils outside the hospital on Wednesday evening and at Sydney Town Hall on Thursday to pressure the government to resettle the family, who were living in the town of Biloela in Queensland when they were taken away by authorities.
Human Rights Commissioner Ed Santow was quoted by Australia’s ABC News as saying that under international law, there is almost no justification to hold Tharunicca and her parents in immigration detention and that Christmas Island poses real health risks.
“We know that people in immigration detention are disproportionately likely to have significant health issues,” he said.
“And for that reason alone we’ve expressed deep concern about using a facility like Christmas Island for detention” because of its distance from a major health facility.
‘Prime Minister’s ego’
Sarah Hanson-Young, a senator from South Australia, wrote on social media, “No child’s suffering is worth any Prime Minister’s ego or stubbornness.”
“It’s time to let these two little girls come home to Biloela. They have been through enough.”
On Tuesday, Australian Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews said the government was looking at “resettlement options” for the family.
“I can’t make public commentary on that at the moment because I don’t want to disrupt those negotiations,” she told reporters.
It is likely that the family will be resettled elsewhere outside of Australia.
Speaking on Nine Radio on Tuesday afternoon, Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne said the government was not looking to allow the Murugappan family to remain in Australia, despite a United Nations request that they are allowed to do so.
“I understand that there are two options that are being looked at. I understand the United States is the first of those and that New Zealand is also an option,” said Payne, who is also a senator.
An online petition asking the Australian government to bring them home to Biloela has already gained more than 421,000 signatories.
“Our community is not ready to let this family go. They love living and contributing to our society. We want them here.”
The family of four was suddenly removed from their home in an early morning raid by immigration officials in March 2018, prompting a nationwide outcry in a country notorious for its hardline approach to asylum seekers and use of offshore detention.
The parents, Nadesalingam and Priya, met and married in Australia after arriving separately by boat in 2012 and 2013, and seeking asylum. They were detained after Priya’s visa expired.
Although born in Australia, Tharunicca and her sister, Kopika, also do not have the right to Australian citizenship by birth.
An attempt to deport the family was made in August 2019 after their asylum applications were rejected, but a Federal Court judge granted a last-minute injunction forcing their plane, which was en route to Sri Lanka, to land in Darwin.