National News

Biloela family approved for return home

A family of Tamil asylum seekers who captured the hearts of Australians has been permitted to return to their home in the regional Queensland town of Biloela on bridging visas.

Nadesalingam and Priya Murugappan fled Sri Lanka after the country's civil war, arriving separately on people-smuggling vessels in 2012 and 2013.

Home Affairs Minister Jim Chalmers said on Friday he had exercised his power under Section 195A of the Migration Act.

"The effect of my intervention enables the family to return to Biloela, where they can reside lawfully in the community on bridging visas while they work towards the resolution of their immigration status, in accordance with Australian law," he said in a statement.

"I have spoken to the family and wished them well for their return."

Priya said in a message via friend Angela Fredericks: "Finally, everything is here. I cannot believe it. My prayer is that this government will make a change to the lives of every single refugee who comes here.

"All refugees are survivors. They need hope".

Ms Fredericks said Priya and Nades had shared their "overwhelming sense of joy and relief" when told of the news.

"We all welcome the decision to issue the entire family with bridging visas. But this family will never be safe until they have permanency in Australia," she said.

The family anticipates leaving Perth in early June.

The couple met in Australia and married in 2014, and both were granted temporary visas settling in Biloela, where they had two daughters, Kopika, 6, and Tharunicaa, 4.

Nades worked at the local meatworks and Priya was a community volunteer.

In March 2018, immigration officers took the family from their Biloela home to a Melbourne detention centre, after Priya's bridging visa expired and Nades' refugee status claim was rejected.

This sparked a national campaign for the family to be allowed to stay in Australia and return to Biloela.

In late August 2019, the coalition government put the family on a plane bound for Sri Lanka.

But their deportation was sensationally halted mid-flight when a Federal Court judge granted a last-minute injunction.

The plane was forced to land in Darwin and the family was moved to the Christmas Island detention centre.

Facing pressure from community groups, lawyers, doctors and politicians, and with Tharunicaa needing medical care, immigration minister Alex Hawke announced in June 2021 the family would live in suburban Perth under a community detention placement while legal action continued.

But he insisted the decision would not create a pathway to a visa.

In September, 12-month bridging visas were granted to Pria, Nades and Kopika, but not to Tharunicaa, which still meant the family could not return to Biloela.

Dr Chalmers said Biloela was a "big-hearted and welcoming Queensland town" that had embraced the family.

He noted the Labor government remained committed to Operation Sovereign Borders and keeping people smugglers out of business.

Kon Karapanagiotidis, founder and CEO of the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, welcomed the decision.

"May this be a turning point for how we treat all refugee families and not just a symbolic act," he said.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese earlier said the cost to the family's health and the economic cost of their detention provided a clear reason to resolve the case.

On hearing the decision he tweeted one word: "Proud"

Former cabinet minister Angus Taylor said the High Court had found the Murugappans weren't refugees and the Labor government's decision sent the wrong signal to people smugglers.

"I totally understand the compassion people feel towards the family, but it's important to have compassion towards the 1200 people who died at sea on those 800 boats when Labor was last in power, when the wrong signal was sent to people smugglers," he told Sky News.

"If people can come in who don't have refugee status, then you know, it's a major issue to then allow them to come into Australia."

© AAP 2022