opinion

The photos that every Australian shouldn't look away from today.

Three-year-old Tharunicaa Murugappan hasn't known anything else but the walls of Christmas Island detention centre. 

Since the age of seven months, she's lived in a rundown demountable building surrounded by wire and guards with her older sister and her parents. 

For the past 10 days, she's been really sick. But despite vomiting, dizziness, diarrhoea and a temperature over 40 degrees, she's only been given Panadol and Nurofen.

Now she's sitting in a Perth hospital bed after being medically evacuated, diagnosed with a potentially deadly blood infection caused by untreated pneumonia.

Photos of a distressed Tharni, as she's affectionately known, being comforted by her older sister Kopika, six, have been shared widely on social media and across Australian media outlets. They illustrate a story we've been telling since 2018. 

A story of a couple, Nadesalingam and Priya, who met in Australia after they both separately sought refuge here from the persecution and horrors they - as Tamils - were being subjected to in their native Sri Lanka. 

They fell in love on our shores, got married and had children. Setting up home in the small town of Biloela, Queensland, where they remain valued members of the community. 

Watch: Kopika turned six in May, her third birthday in detention. Post continues after video. 


Video via Twitter @HometoBilo
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But in March 2018, the couple and their young girls were detained in a dawn raid. Priya's bridging visa had expired and authorities swooped. 

They've been fighting ever since. They've spent three Christmases locked up. Three years trying to give their Queensland-born daughters a childhood behind bars. Three years in the depths of the Australian justice system. 

Every few months their plight reappears on the front pages of our newspapers, and Australians look at the smiling faces of Tharni and Kopika holding up home drawn pictures, or attempting to play in concrete pens inside the prison-like facility and ask why? How is this okay? It feels un-Australian. It feels inhumane. It feels like cruel political point scoring.

But the Government and Immigration Minister (who has the power to intervene) remains unswayed. They've vowed to never resettle anyone who arrives on our shores illegally by boat, and do not consider the girls to be Australian citizens.

They've spent $6 million keeping the family in detention for the past 39 months, even as politicians, media personalities, celebrities, and their community of Biloela share their opposition.  

Numerous rallies have held in capital cities across Australia over the years, demanding: "let them stay." Image: Getty.

And so we have watched babies grow into little girls with razor wire the backdrop of all of their family photos.

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We've watched the pain so evident in the eyes of their parents, as they beg the Australian government for reprieve. 

We've heard stories about little Kopika asking her parents "why do people always follow us?" and "why can't I go to my friend's house?" She attends school on the island under guard, and as she gets older and more aware, her questions get more persistent. She doesn't understand why her family has to live like this.

We've heard about Priya's tears at night, as she struggles daily with her children's distress.

We've watched Tharni grow from a baby into a little girl behind razor wire. Image: HometoBilo/Twitter.

And now we can see that same distress in the eyes of her young daughter Tharni, as she lies terrified in a hospital bed.

They're photos that every Australian shouldn't look away from today. They're photos that demand explanation. 

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Tharni and Kopika are the only children left in Australian immigration detention. Hearing their story, knowing their fight. Seeing Tharni sick and distressed... is this who we are, Australia? What is it going to take for our government to show some compassion? 

What is happening to this family at the hands of Australia cannot be justified or spun as anything other than cruel. 

This story is no longer political. It's simply inhumane. 

You can sign the petition to bring them home, here.

Feature image: HomeToBilo Twitter.

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