We know the horror the Tamils are fleeing from. Yet they're about to spend their third Christmas in detention.

In the early hours of March 5, 2018, officers from Australian Border Force entered the home of married couple, Nadesalingam and Priya, in the central Queensland town of Biloela. 

The pair were given just 10 minutes to pack their belongings, before they and their young Australian-born daughters, Kopika and Tharunicaa, were bundled out into the dawn and onto immigration detention.

Ever since, the family has been held captive, caught up in a lengthy, intricate battle to stay in the country they've called home for the better part of a decade.

Now, it's been more than 1,000 days since they were first snatched from their homes. This is their story, and what their lives look like now. 

Their story.

To Priya and Nades, Australia represented safety and freedom. 

They are Tamil, an ethnic minority that were slaughtered in their tens of thousands during Sri Lanka's bloody civil war. 

Speaking to Mamamia earlier this year, the couple's friend and advocate, Angela Fredericks, said they had each survived horrors that most Australians would barely be able to comprehend.

"Priya's husband was burnt alive in front of her, and her father was abused by the military. Nades is covered in shrapnel from the war," the fellow Biloela resident said.

"For them to make it through, and to still have the most beautiful, kind hearts is extraordinary."

It’s estimated that 40,000 Tamils have been killed. But the number could be as high as 70,000. It’s hard to know, given the government at the time wasn’t really counting. 

Since the conflict ended with a Government victory in 2009, more than 800,000 Tamil people are believed to have scattered across Sri Lanka and globe, driven from their homes, seeking a life free of violence and discrimination. 


Among them was Priya, who sought asylum in Australia in 2012. One year later, a man named Nadesalingam sought refuge for the same reason. A Tamil, Nadesalingam is said to still bear scars, and wear the shrapnel that exploded onto him from a government bomb.

The couple met here in Australia and married. Nades secured a job in the Biloela meat works and they had their beautiful daughters, now aged five and three. 

For more than three years, the couple lived in Biloela, a small community in Central Queensland. Then in March 2018, Priya's bridging visa expired and authorities swooped.  

She says she was in communication with a case worker from the Department of Home Affairs, according to The Guardian. Priya was expecting a new visa to arrive. It never came, though. 

Instead, while Nades was getting ready for work and Priya was preparing a bottle for her seven-month-old baby, their home was stormed by police. Their sleeping children were taken from their beds, while Priya and Nades were given just 10 minutes to collect whatever they needed. They would never be coming back. They were taken into detention, before being transported to Christmas Island. 

The family has been fighting ever since, arguing that they will face persecution if forced to return to their country of birth. 

Through media and social media attention, they've attracted a groundswell of public support, as well as high-profile advocates in the likes of Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese, Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young and radio personality Alan Jones.

But the Government and Immigration Minister (who has the power to intervene) remains unswayed. 

In October 2019, the United Nations Human Rights Committee asked for the family to be removed from detention or placed in a community setting for the duration of their case. But the government didn't listen.  

Image: Facebook/Bring Priya, Nades and their girls home to Biloela.


After numerous legal setbacks, their fate now rests on that of their youngest daughter. 

The last major movement in their case was in April this year, when the Federal Court ruled that Tharunicaa had "not afforded procedural fairness" in her asylum bid.

The Government is appealing that ruling, with a court date yet to be set.

However, a secondary ruling went in the Government's favour. That one held that Tharunicaa did not have the right to have her application automatically assessed. That one is being appealed by lawyers acting for the little girl (if they are successful, her asylum bid may go back to the beginning and be re-considered by the Immigration Assessment Authority). That too is yet to have a court date.

And so, they remain in limbo.

Their life now.

The family of four are the only occupants of the Christmas Island Detention Centre, where they've been held since a last-minute court injunction sensationally grounded their Sri Lanka-bound deportation flight in Darwin in August 2019.

The facility, which once housed thousands of asylum seekers at the height of Australia's offshore detention program, was officially closed in 2019. 

But the family remains there, in stasis, with more than 100 staff employed to guard and cater for them at a cost of tens of millions of dollars, according to The Guardian.

Angela Fredericks has been able to visit the family there twice and talks to them over the phone weekly.

Speaking to Mamamia, she explained that they are housed in two demountable buildings; one with a small kitchen and lounge room, and another with their bedrooms. So the girls are not left alone, they choose to sleep together in one. 

The parents pass their days cooking, exercising and entertaining their girls. 

But as time has worn on, and each stage of their case has dragged, Angela has noticed Priya's emotional state deteriorate.

"She's getting really low," Angela said. "The big [struggle] for her is watching her kids upset."


Kopika, five, attends prep at a local primary school, and is escorted to and from by detention-centre guards. There are no after-school playdates or sleepovers. Recently she and her sister were granted special reprieve to attend a birthday party, and Angela says the photos are heartbreakingly joyous.

While moments like that, and time at school, are a much-appreciated taste of freedom for Kopika, they've also highlighted her plight.

"Now that she is going to school, she really does know that she's different. She's saying to her parents, 'Why can't we leave? I don't want to be here anymore,'" Angela said.

"And when I visited in February, she asked me, 'Why do people always follow us?', referring to the guards. Then when we were saying goodbye on our last day, she said to me, 'Can I come with you?' So, she is really, really getting affected now that she's getting older."

As for Tharunicaa, "She unfortunately doesn't know anything different. All she knows is being contained, which is really sad in its own way."

Despite it all, this is a family truly devoted to the country that has imprisoned them, the country that they came to, seeking a life of freedom.

They even describe themselves as lucky, given the support they've received through petitions, donations and cards and letters of support from thousands of strangers.

"Throughout this whole process, most people would have turned really cold hearted," Angela said, "and yet they constantly [say], 'We love Australia, and we love the people in Australia.' Even to the point of saying, 'the [immigration] Ministers are good men.'

"They are just the most beautiful, genuine people. And Australia is so lucky to have them here."

This article was originally published on July 9, 2020 and was updated on December 8, 2020. 

If you wish to support Priya, Nades, Kopika and Tharunicaa, Angela urges you to write to your local federal member and Immigration Minister Alan Tudge, or sign the petition: Bring Priya and her beautiful family back home to Biloela, Queensland.

Feature image: Facebook/Bring Priya, Nades and their girls home to Biloela.

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