On Friday 28th December, my partner Kevin and I visited our friends Priya and Nades and their two daughters, three year old Kopika and one year old Tharunicaa, at the Melbourne detention centre where they have been held since they were taken from their Biloela home in March last year.
I first met this family when Kopika was six months old. She was the most adorable little baby, with the biggest, brightest eyes ever, making your heart melt. I watched Kopika as she grew, taking those first few steps, becoming confident in the world around her, running to meet people she knew, knowing she would get a joyous greeting.
Priya and Nades, like all parents, were so proud of their little girl – especially so, because neither of them thought they would ever have their own family. Then, in June 2017, Tharunicaa was born, also in Biloela. My heart melted again. I am so proud to be considered Kopika and Tharunicaa’s “Australian grandmother”.
While waiting to enter the visiting area, I could see Kopika through the pane of glass, jumping and waving, a big smile on her face. When I walked through the door she ran to me and hugged me so tight, laughing and hugging me more.
Priya was waiting for me, tears running down her face. She looked tired and defeated but happy to see me, and hugged me tight. As usual, Nades had a huge smile on his face.
We caught up with each other, Nades being the host and making coffee and tea. Kopika sat on my knee and played with Kev for ages, stopping for more cuddles now and then. She is a real character and a bright little girl, singing the alphabet song with me and counting to 20.
Tharunicaa was shy. I guess with the lack of contact with others her own age over the last 10 months, this is to be expected.
On Friday 21st December, the Federal Court dismissed Priya’s appeal for safety. They now face deportation to danger at any time from 1st February.
Since the negative outcome, Priya has been crying a lot. She tries to stop, as she knows it is having a detrimental effect on the girls. Nades and Priya are not sleeping. Tharunicaa is not sleeping. Priya has lost 20kg, not being able to eat due to the stress and fear of being returned to Sri Lanka, a place that has memories of horror and trauma for her.
Life in detention is taking its toll on this beautiful family. But a couple of times Priya looked and me and said that even though life in detention is hard, at least it is safe. If they go back to Sri Lanka, they will not be safe. Their daughters will not be safe.
I asked Priya if she had any messages for anyone. She asked me to thank everyone for all the support you are giving. Both Priya and Nades are proud and overwhelmed by the support they have received from you all: “Thank you, thank you, thank you”. Their biggest dream is that when they get back to Biloela, they would like to thank you all personally.
It was hard to say goodbye. Priya who had been holding back the tears because she wanted to have a happy time with us, let them flow. Nades stopped smiling. Kopika and Tharunicaa, not understanding, hugged and waved, looking forward to the next visit. For me, it was one of the hardest goodbyes ever.
I have listened to both Priya and Nades as they have told me their stories. They have both experienced atrocities that we could never envisage here in Australia. But more importantly, I have listened to their stories for their hopes and dreams for their little family – hopes and dreams that began in Biloela.
Now, more than ever, this beautiful family needs our support. We have only until January 30th to convince the Minister for Immigration to intervene and grant these wonderful people the right to bring their Australian daughters up in Australia - in Biloela, where they were born.