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Kopika was 2 when her family were taken from Biloela. Today she spent her 7th birthday in detention.

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

The pair were given just ten minutes to pack their belongings, before they and their young Australian-born daughters, Kopika and Tharnicaa, 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 1500 days since they were first snatched from their homes. This is their story, and what their lives look like now. 

Priya and Nades Murugappan speak about returning to Biloela on Australian Story. Post continues below.


Video via ABC.

Their story.

To Priya and Nades, Australia represented safety and freedom. 

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

Speaking to Mamamia, 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."

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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 the 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 'Nades' sought refuge for the same reason. The couple met here in Australia and married. Nades secured a job in the Biloela meatworks and they had their beautiful daughters, now aged seven and four. 

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.  

Listen to The Quicky on why the government won't let the Biloela family stay. Post continues after audio.


She says she was in communication with a caseworker 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 ten 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. 

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

But the Liberal Government and Immigration Minister (who has the power to intervene) remain 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.

Their life now.

The family of four were for a long time the only occupants of the Christmas Island Detention Centre, where they were 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. 

While the family remained there, more than 100 staff were employed to guard and cater for them at a cost of tens of millions of dollars, according to The Guardian.

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

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Speaking to Mamamia, she explained they were 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 passed their days cooking, exercising and entertaining their girls. 

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

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

The family garnered a small win when they were transported to community detention in Perth as opposed to Christmas Island. But it came under terrible circumstances, with the family placed in Perth following the medical evacuation of their youngest daughter Tharnicaa from Christmas Island in June 2021 due to a blood infection. She has now made a full recovery.

The family then had a legal win earlier this year when the Federal Circuit Court found the federal government's decision to prevent three members of the family from applying for further bridging visas was "procedurally unfair".

Parents Priya and Nades along with daughter Kopika were granted 12-month bridging visas by Immigration Minister Alex Hawke following a long ordeal.

Tharnicaa remains the only member of the family without a bridging visa, which is why the family remains in Perth rather than going back to their Central Queensland town of Biloela, where the locals desperately want them to return.

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And this week, Kopika spent her seventh birthday in community detention.

Supporters are urging Immigration Minister Alex Hawke to use his ministerial powers ahead of the election and before their 12-month visas expire in September.

Shadow Minister for Home Affairs Kristina Keneally said on ABC News last month: "If the Morrison government won't return the Biloela family home to Biloela, the town in QLD that loves them ... an Albanese Labor Government will."

As Angela Fredericks said: "It breaks my heart to be celebrating another of Kopi's birthdays while she's still in some form of detention.

"Throughout this whole process, most people would have turned really cold-hearted. And yet they constantly [say], 'We love Australia, and we love the people in Australia'. They are just the most beautiful, genuine people. And Australia is so lucky to have them here."

This article was originally published in July 2020, and updated on May 12, 2022.


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 Change.org 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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