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Bring Them Home to Bilo

Home > Perth > Charity | Fundraisers
Published March 15th 2022
Biloela wants its family out of detention and back home
hometobilo, Biloela, Murugappan family, refugee, asylum seeker, justice, Australian politics, take action, Federal Government, immigration
The Murugappan family with #hometobilo campaigner Angela Fredericks

It's been more than four years since a Sri Lankan family were removed from their home in Biloela, Queensland, and placed in detention. Since then, they have been fighting a long legal battle to remain in Australia. The family has obeyed all visa conditions, obeyed Australia's laws, paid taxes and contributed to the community. And the town of Biloela wants them back.

A group made up of Biloela residents, family friends and supporters have come together to help Nades and Priya Murugappan and their two Queensland-born young daughters with the #hometobilo campaign, calling on the Federal Government to allow them to return home. The fourth anniversary of the family's removal was marked with a "virtual hug" as Biloela locals and close friends joined about 500 supporters from across Australia for a video call.

hometobilo, Biloela, Murugappan family, refugee, asylum seeker, justice, Australian politics, take action, Federal Government, immigration
The online virtual hug that marked the fourth anniversary of the Murugappan family being detained in detention

On March 5, 2018, Australian Border Force took Priya, Nades and their daughters Kopika (Kopi) and Tharnicaa (Tharni) away, detaining them in Melbourne before forcing them to Christmas Island. Four-year-old Tharni was medically evacuated to Perth last year and the family now lives in community detention on bridging visas – they are not allowed to return to Biloela and face an uncertain future on whether they will be forced to return to Sri Lanka.

hometobilo, Biloela, Murugappan family, refugee, asylum seeker, justice, Australian politics, take action, Federal Government, immigration
Nades and Priya Murugappan with daughters Tharni, left, and Kopi, right, before they were detained

Many of the facts have been muddled, misinterpreted or misrepresented – often by ministers responsible for the situation – so, it's important to outline various events that have led to the current state of play:

Nades and Priya are Tamil asylum-seekers, who arrived separately by boat in 2012 and 2013, met in Australia and married in 2014. Both came legally: it is not illegal to seek asylum in Australia, whether you arrive by air or boat. Australia is a signatory to the United Nations Refugee Convention, which allows people seeking safety in Australia to arrive without permissions (such as without a visa) and states that people cannot be punished for doing so.


At 16, Nades was taken, blindfolded and forced to join the Tamil Tigers to do propaganda work – he had no choice in the matter. Tamils face certain persecution if they return to Sri Lanka, as highlighted by a 2016-17 Amnesty International report: "Tamils complained of ethnic profiling, surveillance and harassment by police suspecting them of LTTE [Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam] links; the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination found that the Sri Lanka Prevention of Terrorism Act was used disproportionately against Tamils".

In 2000, the Sri Lankan army rounded up five members in Priya's village, including her fiancé. She was forced to watch as they were burnt alive – her fiancé was murdered in front of her. She fled to India and has never returned to Sri Lanka and has no family there.

hometobilo, Biloela, Murugappan family, refugee, asylum seeker, justice, Australian politics, take action, Federal Government, immigration
Emeritus Professor Damien Kingsbury

Deakin University International politics expert Emeritus Professor Damien Kingsbury told ABC's Australian Story: "They will be arrested when they arrive [back in Sri Lanka] and will almost certainly have to go into re-education camps for a period of two years," he said. "Their children will be taken away and put into orphanages because they can't go into the education camps and they will essentially disappear into the system. At worst, what we are likely to see is that the parents will not just face arrest and rejection but likely torture and potentially disappearance."

Priya is terrified of being forced to return because of what happened to another family in Biloela that was deported back to Sri Lanka: the husband was jailed on his return and the army contacted the wife, who was then gang-raped by the soldiers. "I don't know if you've seen fear," Margot Plant, adopted Aussie grandma of Kopi and Tharni, said in the same Australian Story program. "I looked in her eyes that day. It was pure fear. I'll never forget – that stays with me forever."

hometobilo, Biloela, Murugappan family, refugee, asylum seeker, justice, Australian politics, take action, Federal Government, immigration
Margot Plant, Kopi and Tharni's adopted Australian grandmother

Nades has never returned to Sri Lanka since arriving in Australia; this was misrepresented by then-immigration minister Peter Dutton on Radio 2GB and AAP FactCheck found he made a false claim. Both Priya and Nades have remained in Australia since their arrival, as this was a condition of their bridging visas.

What occurred in Biloela and beyond...
Priya and Nades lived quiet lives in Biloela, a town that needs new families to keep local services running. The local meatworks found it difficult to get Australians to work for them so formed an agreement to bring in people seeking asylum to fill the gap – and that's where Nades ended up. Priya joined church groups and took her curries to doctors at the local hospital.

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Nades in the Biloela meatworks


• On March 4, 2018, Priya's bridging visa expired – she was still in the process of extending it with the Department of Home Affairs. At 5am, Monday, March 5, Australian Border Force officials, Serco guards and police arrived at the family's home and removed them. They were given 10 minutes to pack and then flown to Melbourne.

• Priya and Nades were instructed to sign documents agreeing to "voluntary removal". They were told, if they did not sign them, they would be denied access to a phone and forcibly deported, separately. The papers were signed on March 6 but the couple said they did it under unfair duress.

hometobilo, Biloela, Murugappan family, refugee, asylum seeker, justice, Australian politics, take action, Federal Government, immigration
Protestors take to the streets after the family was removed from Biloela


• On March 13, the family was taken to Perth and put on a plane for deportation – but a last-minute legal intervention saw them removed from the plane before take-off and flown back to the Melbourne Detention Centre.

• While in detention, the family experienced severe vitamin D deficiencies due to the lack of sunlight and fresh produce. This occurred at a pivotal time in Tharni's development and her first teeth came through rotten, requiring four of them to be removed.

hometobilo, Biloela, Murugappan family, refugee, asylum seeker, justice, Australian politics, take action, Federal Government, immigration
Tharni's baby teeth came through rotten while in detention


• In 2019, Home Affairs recommended to then-immigration minister David Coleman that he exercise his discretionary power to grant the family a substantive visa. Immigration ministers have the power to intervene in any immigration case and grant a visa to stay in Australia, if they think it is in the public interest. But Coleman dismissed the recommendation.

• On August 29, 2019, the family was removed from the Melbourne detention centre to be taken to Sri Lanka. An injunction preventing them from being removed from Australia was granted while the plane was en route to Darwin. They were then placed in the rundown detention centre on Christmas Island.

• Three-year-old Tharni became very sick in June 2021 with vomiting, diarrhoea and dizziness for several days. She was medically evacuated to Perth after it was discovered she had the life-threatening blood infection sepsis, a result of contracting pneumonia.

hometobilo, Biloela, Murugappan family, refugee, asylum seeker, justice, Australian politics, take action, Federal Government, immigration
Kopi offers her sister Tharni support, after she was medically evacuated from Christmas Island

• Priya was allowed to fly with her daughter; Nades and Kopi were then granted permission to come to Perth a week later. Following treatment, the family has been living in community detention in Perth with Nades working as a chef and the two children attending school. They are on bridging visas with no certainty as to what the future may hold.

For years, politicians – including former Prime Ministers Malcolm Turnbull and Tony Abbott, former Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and former Deputy Prime Ministers Michael McCormack and Barnaby Joyce – have called on successive immigration ministers to use their ministerial discretion to let the family return to Biloela.

hometobilo, Biloela, Murugappan family, refugee, asylum seeker, justice, Australian politics, take action, Federal Government, immigration
Brenda from Biloela

"They are a beautiful family and so genuine and had such sweet little girls. So, of course, I was horrified when they were abducted!" Brenda from Biloela said on the Bring Priya, Nades and their girls home to Biloela Facebook page.

hometobilo, Biloela, Murugappan family, refugee, asylum seeker, justice, Australian politics, take action, Federal Government, immigration
Gen from Biloela

Gen from Biloela said: "I remember finding out about what happened to Priya, Nades and their family... to say I was horrified was an understatement. To think that this could happen in a town that I grew up in, where I had been safe and protected as a child."

hometobilo, Biloela, Murugappan family, refugee, asylum seeker, justice, Australian politics, take action, Federal Government, immigration
John from Biloela

John from Biloela noted: "Nades continues to inspire me with his strong work ethic. We desperately need people like him back here in Biloela."

hometobilo, Biloela, Murugappan family, refugee, asylum seeker, justice, Australian politics, take action, Federal Government, immigration
Bronwyn from Biloela

And Bronwyn, another Biloela local, said: "We have all been inspired watching this family maintain their humanity and spirit while going through such horrific treatment... little did we know that we would still be needing to fight four years later."

Priya told the Biloela Beacon: "I miss my friends, yes, my wonderful friends. Biloela is a very quiet place, very relaxed, peaceful, happy. Nades loved the work in Biloela. My heart only ever felt full when I was in Biloela".

So, what can you do to help? The #hometobilo campaign asks that you take action by calling your local MP (talking points provided) or emailing your MP or senator directly, from your own email account, in your own words. By typing in your postcode, you can search for the politician most relevant to your area.

hometobilo, Biloela, Murugappan family, refugee, asylum seeker, justice, Australian politics, take action, Federal Government, immigration
Can you help bring this family home to Bileola?

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Why? Once you hear the stories of the kid’s teeth rotting, the mother’s fear of rape if she returns to Sri Lanka and how much the town of Biloela loves this family, you’ll want to take action, too.
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