Leading medical groups have called on the Federal Government to urgently release the Biloela family into the community amid grave concerns for the mental and physical health of the family and other refugees and asylum seekers still being held in detention.
The Royal Australasian College of Physicians (RACP), Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists (RANZCP) and the Australian Medical Association (AMA) today stepped up their advocacy on behalf of Sri Lankan asylum seekers Priya and Nades Murugappan and their Australian-born daughters Tharnicaa and Kopika, who have been in detention for three years after their bridging visa expired.
Concerns for the family’s wellbeing intensified this week when three-year-old Tharnicaa was rushed, seriously ill, to the Perth Children’s Hospital from Christmas Island, with what supporters say was untreated pneumonia leading to a blood infection.
The family had been living in the Queensland town of Biloela when Australian Border Force officials took them into detention at dawn one day in 2018 after their temporary protection visa expired. Community members have campaigned tirelessly, including under the hashtag #HometoBilo for their return in the face of Australian Government efforts to return them to Sri Lanka.
“We are calling for the urgent release of the Biloela family, and all refugees and asylum seekers being held in detention,” said Professor Catherine Choong, President of the RACP’s Paediatric and Child Health Division in a statement today.
“As medical experts, it’s clear that the mental and physical healthcare needs of asylum seekers and refugees are being neglected in Australia’s detention system,” she said, adding that the news of Tharnicaa’s serious illness was “terribly distressing”.
The RACP called on the Australian Government to release all asylum seekers from detention and ensure people receive flexible casework support after they are released from detention to facilitate access to health, mental health, education, early childhood, housing, welfare and employment services.
The RANZCP also urged the Federal Government to release all asylum seekers and refugees from detention and called for Tharnicaa’s father and sister to be able to join her and her mother in Perth.
Violating their rights
Chair of the RANZCP Asylum Seeker and Refugee Mental Health Network Committee, Dr Kym Jenkins, expressed concern for the mental health and wellbeing of the family, saying “it’s beyond understanding why the Federal Government would separate the family when one of their daughters is so unwell”.
“‘It goes against everything we stand for as a country to continue to cause so much grief and suffering to this family,” Jenkins said, warning that to be separated from each other during such significant stress and anxiety “simply compounds the already existing mental health and wellbeing issues they’re suffering in detention”.
“The prolonged and indefinite detention of this family, and other asylum seekers and refugees, violates their rights to liberty and freedom, as well as their rights to seek asylum without punishment on account of their method of entry into a territory,” she said.
“This family, like many others, have suffered long enough and it’s time to end that suffering.”
Jenkins said the RANZCP Asylum Seeker and Refugee Mental Health Network Committee strongly urges the Government to release people in detention facilities who do not pose a significant security or health risk into suitable community housing, and to enable them to manage their health and wellbeing and successful integration into the community.
“Our thoughts are with little Tharunica Murugappan and we wish her a speedy recovery,” it said. “The AMA is shocked by this further trauma for the Murugappan family and is renewing its call for their release from detention on Christmas Island.”
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
A family friend, Simone Cameron, told Croakey that Nades and Priya and the Home to Bilo group were heartened by the response of medical professionals who have called for the release of the family. She said:
The issue of our friends’ detention has always been a personal one for us. For the Government it appears purely a political one.
But now, with calls from the medical profession, it becomes a medical issue. This family need to be released, immediately, back to the community of Biloela, where they are wanted and welcome.”
See the RACP’s position statement on Refugees and Asylum Seeker Health which is supported by 14 peak medical organisations here.
See Croakey’s archive of stories about asylum seeker and refugee health.
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