After two years on Christmas Island, the Murugappan family is finally preparing to return to the mainland, to leave the wire fences, demountable buildings, and 24-hour police guard of immigration detention behind.
Tamil asylum seekers Priya and Nadesalingam Murugappan and their young Australian-born daughters, Kopika and Tharnicaa, have been detained on the remote Indian Ocean outpost since 2019, while they've waged an intricate legal battle to remain in Australia — the country they've called home for close to a decade.
But their return to the Australian community is not the victory they or their advocates had hoped for.
"I've made a compassionate decision..."
On Tuesday, federal Immigration Minister Alex Hawke granted approval for the family to live in Perth under a community detention arrangement, after the youngest of the two children was medically evacuated there with a life-threatening blood infection.
Four-year-old Tharnicaa has spent the past week laying in Perth's Children's Hospital with sepsis coursing through her blood, a condition that doctors suspect may have been caused by untreated pneumonia.
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"The family will now reside in suburban Perth through a community detention placement, close to schools and support services, while the youngest child receives medical treatment from the nearby Perth Children’s Hospital and as the family pursues ongoing legal matters," the Minister said in a statement.
Elaborating on the sudden change of heart, Minister Hawke told Sky News it was a "compassionate decision".
The timing is curious, to say the least.
There was no compassion when Priya's bridging visa expired in March 2018 and immigration officials swooped on the family's home in Biloela, Queensland, giving them 10 minutes to pack their belongings.
Nor was there compassion during their initial detention in Melbourne when the girls were only allowed to play outside for 30 minutes a day and suffered nutritional deficiencies that saw Tharnicaa undergo surgery to remove her rotting teeth.
Nor was there compassion in May when Priya spoke about her struggles with depression and concerns for her safety. Nor was there compassion in the 10 days that Tharnicaa was fighting a fever before being deemed sick enough to be evacuated to Perth last Monday.
No. Minister Hawke's "compassionate decision" came now, after images of the little girl crying in her hospital bed earned front-page billing around the country.
Now that former High Court judge Sir Gerard Brennan has publicly slammed the Government for inflicting "cruelty" upon an innocent child "to punish her parents who came by boat" and discourage others from doing the same.
And now that his own coalition colleague, Barnaby Joyce, has opposed the family's deportation and questioned whether they would be treated differently if their girls' names were "Jane and Sally".