As three-year-old Tharnicaa Murugappan continues to fight a blood infection inside Perth Children’s Hospital, members of the federal government have publicly offered little support for the plight of the Biloela family.
Tharnicaa was medically evacuated, accompanied by her mother Priya, from Christmas Island to Perth on Monday after suffering from vomiting, a high fever and diarrhoea for nearly two weeks. Arriving at the Perth hospital, she was diagnosed with a blood infection caused by untreated pneumonia, according to the #HomeToBilo group. It was reported that Priya’s requests for appropriate medical care for her daughter on Christmas Island were denied for more than 10 days.
In a statement, Priya said Tharnicaa was “already asking for her papa, it is going to be very hard being away from her dad and sister. It is very hard for our family to be separated when our daughter is sick.”
Liberal MP Dave Sharma was asked by the ABC’s Patricia Karvelas if he was comfortable with the decision to separate the Biloela family as Tharnicaa is treated in Perth, away from her father and sister, who remain on Christmas Island.
Sharma said he had sympathy for Tharnicaa but couldn’t comment on the situation because he didn’t “know the details”.
Karvelas replied, “Well, I’ve just told you the details. They’ve been separated.”
“Ok, I presume she’s got her mother with her?” Sharma asked
“She does have her mother, but she’s distressed and wanted her father with her too. Why separate a family?”
The most Sharma could say was that he’d like to see families kept together “wherever possible”.
“But without knowing particular circumstances, that is all I can say, as a matter of principle,” he said.
On Wednesday, federal Attorney-General Michaelia Cash spoke at a business breakfast in Perth and warned of the “consequences of blinking” when asked about the Biloela family’s situation.
“You do not think the people smugglers do not watch Australia each and every day? They do,” she said. “We are exploring alternatives, but I believe, personally, it is the right stance because of the consequences of blinking.”
And let’s not forget when newly appointed Minister for Home Affairs Karen Andrews was asked if she had compassion for the Biloela family last month, she said she was a compassionate person by nature, but “compassion takes many different forms”. Andrews, as Home Affairs Minister, has the authority to intervene in the family’s case at any point, and allow them to return to live in Australia. Instead, she has said this week “a range of resettlement options” were being considered, but she could not make public comments on the matter.
It was revealed this week that Immigration Minister Alex Hawke is considering a court requirement to look at potentially lifting the statutory bar preventing the family from applying for another visa. The court has previously ruled that Tharnicaa was denied fair process with her visa application.
As speculation about what will happen to the family continues, #HomeToBilo advocate and friend of the family Angela Fredericks said the constant discussion can be harmful to the family’s mental health.
“We’ve lost count of the times Priya and Nades’ hearts have been broken by speculation like this, or similar, in the past. Hope is all they have, and speculative discussions like this can do harm to their mental state and wellbeing,” Fredericks said.
The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists (RANZCP) has also expressed concerns about the family’s mental well being and has called on the federal government to reunite the Biloela family following their recent separation earlier this week.
Dr Kym Jenkins, Chair of the RANZCP Asylum Seeker and Refugee Mental Health Network Committee, said she had concerns about the mental health of the family as Tharnicaa receives medical treatment in Perth.
“It’s beyond understanding why the Federal Government would separate the family when one of their daughters is so unwell,” Dr Jenkins said.
“It goes against everything we stand for as a country to continue to cause so much grief and suffering to this family.
“To be separated from each other during a time of significant stress and anxiety simply compounds the already existing mental health and wellbeing issues they’re suffering in detention.”