The Timaru Herald

A case worthy of an exception

Views from around the world. These opinions are not necessaril­y shared by Stuff newspapers.


The sad case of the Murugappan family taken from their home in Biloela, Queensland, and detained for the past three years has dragged on for too long. Since their detention as illegal arrivals in 2018, the plight of the Sri Lankan-born mother and father and their two young daughters, born in Australia, has been a cause celebre for critics of Australia’s tough border policies.

They were taken from the small town where they had lived for several years and sent to the remote Christmas Island detention facility until they exhausted their appeals against deportatio­n. The case grabbed headlines again last week because the younger of the girls was flown to Perth and diagnosed with septicemia and pneumonia.

This case is not as morally monochrome as pro-refugee activists sometimes portray it. The courts have found the girls’ parents’ claims for asylum in Australia are weak. The risk of persecutio­n if they are ‘‘refouled’’ to Sri Lanka is low. In normal circumstan­ces they would be deported.

Yet this might be a good time to make an exception. Even if their parents did enter Australia illegally, keeping children in prolonged detention is an act of cruelty and a denial of basic human rights. As former chief justice Gerard Brennan said in a letter to the Herald, this is a ‘‘show of heartlessn­ess towards Australian children’’.

Immigratio­n Minister Alex Hawke should use his legal discretion to let them stay permanentl­y. This small act of compassion would save millions wasted on detaining good people.

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