Australia’s new Labor government has signaled it won’t fundamentally change the country’s uncompromising asylum policies despite allowing a high-profile Tamil family to return home to Queensland after four years in detention. They were taken into custody by border force officials in 2018 and have fought a legal battle to stay ever since. Labor plans to alter some immigration policies of the previous center-right administration, but tough border and detention measures are expected to remain in place.
The Nadesalingam family has been the highly publicized face of Australia's hardline policy on migrants who try to reach the country by boat.
Parents Priya and Nades arrived separately in Australia seeking asylum in 2013 and 2012, respectively. Friends said they fled Sri Lanka because of persecution of minority Tamil communities.
They have since married and had two children, both of whom were born in Australia but do not have citizenship.
They lived in the town of Biloela, 600 kilometers north of Brisbane, the Queensland state capital.
In March 2018, they were detained by Australian border force agents after the parents’ refugee claims had been rejected by the government.
For almost two years, they were held in an immigration center on Christmas Island, an Australian territory in the Indian Ocean before one of the Nadesalingams was flown to Perth, in western Australia for urgent medical treatment.
After years of campaigning, much of it by residents of Biloela, the family has been granted bridging visas by Australia’s new Labor government that will allow them to stay until their final immigration status is determined.
Angela Fredericks, a resident of Biloela, says the community is ready to again embrace the Tamil family.
“The town here once again has just rallied. So, there have been so many offers of accommodation, of work opportunities, of furniture. All those things. So, this family they are just going to be completely cradled and looked after until they are back on their feet, which knowing them it will not take them long,” she said.
The new Labor government’s policy is to grant permanent — rather than temporary — visas to those whose asylum claims have been found to be genuine. Experts say that policy could allow about 19,000 people to stay in Australia who would otherwise have been deported.
But Labor also plans to maintain Operation Sovereign Borders, set up in 2013, to allow the navy to intercept and turn back boats carrying migrants into Australian waters. It will also support a long-standing mandatory detention policy, where so-called 'unauthorized arrivals', including children, are held in custody while their refugee claims are assessed.
Campaigners want the new administration in Canberra to adopt a more humane approach.
Aran Mylvaganam from the Tamil Refugee Council, an advocacy group, says the compassion shown to the Nadesalingam family should be extended to additional vulnerable people.
“There are many families like Priya and Nades’ family who have exhausted all the legal avenues and are living in fear of being deported back,” he said.
Australia has granted visas to about 13,750 people each year under various humanitarian programs. The Labor government has said it would hope to increase the annual refugee intake to around 27,000 people.