Biloela asylum seeker family begin trip back to Queensland

The Tamil asylum seeker family at the centre of a decade-long immigration battle thanked the people of Perth for their support as they began their journey back to their adopted hometown of Biloela.

The Nadesalingam family have flown out of Western Australia bound for Queensland, where they will live in the community on bridging visas while their immigration case is resolved in court.

Priya, Nades and their daughters Kopica and Tharnicaa were met by media as they arrived at Perth Airport early this morning before their flight, which departed just before 9am.

Dressed in matching outfits, the two little girls were a bit shy in front of the bright and flashing lights.

The Nadesalingam family stand together for a photo at Perth Airport.
It was all smiles at Perth Airport as Kopika and Tharnicaa prepared to board their flight home. (ABC News: Cason Ho)

But they were all smiles as they clung to their parents and long-running campaigner and friend, Angela Fredericks.

Tharnicaa, who will celebrate her 5th birthday on Sunday – her first birthday outside of immigration detention – and Kopica, 7, were both holding toy cockatoos, which have become a symbol of the Home to Bilo campaign.

Angela holds Tharnicaa as they speak to media
Tharnicaa stays close to Angela Fredericks, who has campaigned tirelessly to get the family home to Biloela. (ABC News: Cason Ho)

‘Happy to start our journey’

Priya gave a brief statement in English before Nades spoke in Tamil, both thanking those who had helped them get to this point.

A woman kisses a man on the cheek.
Priya (left) and Nades shared a kiss amid emotional scenes before boarding their flight. (ABC News: Cason Ho)

“Tomorrow it is one year staying in Perth since I came when my daughter [was] very sick,” Priya said. 

“[We] are very grateful to all the Perth Children’s Hospital [staff] who helped lots … I have made great friends.

“Me and my family are very happy to start our journey back to my community in Bilo. 

“Thank you to all [of you people in] Perth, thanks. Love you Perth.”

The family have been in detention for the past four years after immigration officials detained them in 2018.

Tharnicaa and Kopika Murugappan
Youngest daughter Tharnicaa was medically evacuated to Perth from Christmas Island last year. (Supplied: Change.org)

Two weeks ago, Labor announced after winning the federal election that the family would be allowed to return to Biloela

A long battle to call Australia home

Priya and Nades came to Australia separately by boat in 2012 and 2013.

The Nadesalingam family stand together for a photo at Perth Airport.
The Nadesalingam family are scheduled to arrive in Biloela on Friday. (ABC News: Cason Ho)

Friends and support groups say the pair fled Sri Lanka because of the persecution of the Tamil people.

The couple married and settled in the Central Queensland town of Biloela, where they lived and worked for about three years on temporary bridging visas.

Their two daughters, Kopika and Tharnicaa, were born in Australia.

The Home to Bilo grassroots campaign has kept national attention on the asylum-seeking Tamil family since they were taken from Biloela in 2018.

The family was eventually removed to Christmas Island where they spent the better part of two years in the detention centre before being brought to Perth in 2021, when their youngest, Tharnicaa, required medical attention.

The Department of Home Affairs has consistently said their case for asylum was comprehensively assessed and the family did not meet Australia’s protection obligations.

Their fate hung on a change of government and the new Labor government swiftly granted the family bridging visas, allowing them to return to Biloela while they awaited their case to be resolved in court.

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