Visit with the Family by Simone Cameron
Updated: Apr 26, 2019
I visited Nades, Priya, Kopika and Tharunicaa at Melbourne Immigration Transit Accommodation (MITA) on Tuesday the 17th April. I took my daughter Isabelle (9 years old) along to play with the girls. This is my recount of that visit.
After a short wait, we see the family walking toward the Visitor’s Room, accompanied by a Serco guard. Nades carries Tharunicaa, a bright-eyed baby of ten months. Kopika, a petite almost three- year old runs over and greets us with hugs and kisses. Priya is understandably fragile and starts to cry when she sees us. During our visit she oscillates frequently between tears and quiet composure.
The days sound endless. The family are confined to one room for most of the day, where they are watched constantly by a guard. It appears that they are now allowed to go outside upon request. But the outside area is a treeless, grassless, concreted area. The family can take a short walk past some of the vacant houses, but that is it. There is a children’s swing, and nothing else.
Tharunicaa is beginning to display some of the effects of detention that we know occur quickly in children. She has started to wake each hour through the night, and sleeps for just fifteen minutes at a time during the day. Kopika, who right now looks so animated and energetic in the company of another child, cries constantly that she wants to go back to Biloela and play with her friends.
“Those girls are Biloela girls”, Priya says as she smiles at them.
We talk about their house on Rainbow Street, opposite the Catholic Church. Priya speaks fondly of their landlady and neighbour, Barbara, who is “kind and friendly and gave us a good rent price”. Sister Beryl, who often pops over to chat with Priya. She tells me of how touched they were to receive visits from different Biloela friends over the past few weeks – Margot, Marie, Jenny and Dr Gowrie.
Kopika comes toward our table, grabs a chocolate, and runs back to her puzzle.
We discuss the births of the two girls. Kopika was born at 33 weeks, weighing just two kilograms at birth. And Tharunicaa, who was born in June last year, had been incorrectly diagnosed in utero with serious complications. Doctors had advised Priya that she should consider a termination of the pregnancy. Priya explains how she went to the Catholic Church in Biloela and prayed. “I prayed to God, to Jesus, help my baby please.” Priya recounts their discussions, and their decision that they loved this baby, whatever the complication, and would proceed with the pregnancy.
I am amazed at this woman. In her own words she “has not had much good luck in life”, and yet her faith endures. From war-torn Sri Lanka to a subsistence lifestyle in India, she has endured more than this white Australian can comprehend. But when she talks of her marriage to Nades, a devoted husband and father, their joy in bringing Kopika and Tharunicaa into the world, and the simple pleasures of their life in Biloela, her eyes sparkle. Finally, after years of struggle and hardship, she found happiness, peace, and connection in Biloela.
For now, the family must wait in detention for their court hearing in early May. Priya says she feels happy when she thinks of Biloela. “I like Biloela. When I go into Woolworths, people know my name. They say hello to me. I am in their memory.”