Plight of Murugappan family refocuses attention on refugees and asylum seekers

17 Jun 2021

This week the AMA welcomed the decision to move the Murugappan asylum-seeker family, to community detention in Perth from offshore detention at Christmas Island, but also called on the government to immediately permanently resettle the family in Australia. 

The call followed the emergency transportation of four-year-old Tharnicaa Murugappan to a Perth hospital last week, after she developed a serious medical condition while on Christmas Island.

The AMA policy on refugees and asylum seekers says, “Like all people seeking health care, asylum seekers and refugees in Australia, or under the protection of the Australian government, should be treated with compassion, respect and dignity.”

The AMA policy can be viewed here: AMA position statement on Refugee and Asylum seeker health

More than 7000 AMA members have signed a petition to allow the family to be permanently settled in Australia. The two children were born in Biloela, in Queensland, where the family lived and worked before being taken into detention in 2018. Parents Nades and Priya are Tamils from Sri Lanka, who have concerns for the safety of their family if they return to Sri Lanka.

AMA President Omar Khorshid issued a plea for the government to show compassion to the family and let them resettle permanently in Australia on the ABC panel program QandA last week, and has said the AMA is “saddened and concerned” about Tharnicaa’s condition. 

He said it was a very sobering reminder of the unacceptable delay in resolving the migration outcome for the family, with their health and wellbeing clearly being harmed through this process.

"While we welcome Minister Hawke’s announcement that the family will be moved to from Christmas Island to a community setting in Perth, we note that these children have lost three years of their childhood to immigration detention," he said.

“We call on Minister Andrews and Minister Hawke to exercise their ministerial discretion to respond in a humane and swift manner.” 

The AMA also holds grave concerns for the mental health and wellbeing of refugees currently under the care of the government across all onshore and offshore immigration detention settings.

Reports of declining mental health, self-harm and suicide attempts by the refugees and asylum seekers currently being held in alternative places of detention, or hotels, in Brisbane and Melbourne are very concerning.

The government should release these refugees and asylum seekers into the community while they await a final determination or outcome of their migration pathways.