Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews has ruled out third-country resettlement for a Tamil asylum seeker family being detained on Christmas Island as they are not officially classed as refugees, insisting any exemption could revive the people smuggling trade.
Priya Murugappan, her husband Nades and their two Australian-born daughters have been held in immigration detention since 2019 after they were removed by Australian Border Force officials from the rural Queensland town of Biloela in 2018.
There has been an outpouring of public support for the family, particularly after the youngest daughter, three-year-old Tharnicaa, was medically evacuated to Perth this week with a life-threatening blood infection and pneumonia. There are reports Coalition MPs are privately lobbying senior members of the government to allow the family to stay in Australia.
While Ms Andrews, and the Foreign Minister Marise Payne, indicated earlier this week that the Morrison government was considering resettlement options in either New Zealand or the United States, this was rejected on Thursday.
"In relation to resettlement options the arrangements that we have in place with the United States and New Zealand are in respect to refugees," the Home Affairs Minister told radio station 4BC.
"This family does not have refugee status, so the family does not have access to those two programs because they are for resettlement of refugees."
Refugee activists say the family is being blocked by the Immigration Minister Alex Hawke from applying for refugee status. The family, which has strong support from the Biloela community, are being held in immigration detention while a legal challenge related to Tharnicaa's status in Australia is heard.
Federal Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese wants the federal government to use its discretion.
"This family are wanted in this regional community. They're a part of the regional community. And they're no threat to our sovereignty," he said.
"Our sovereignty isn't diminished by looking after these young girls who were born here and their mum and dad.
"And the government has discretion. The government has used discretion over nannies in the past, over a range of people who are connected. These people are connected. They're connected with their community in Biloela. And they should be brought home there."
But Karen Andrews insists the federal government's border policies are at risk of being undermined
Asked on Channel 7's Sunrise why she was being "mean" to this family, she said that was not the reality with this family.
"It's not a case of being mean. We are very strong as a government, and [in] our policy in relation to our border protection. These are long-standing policies," Ms Andrews said.
"Quite frankly, I'm not going to have people die trying to come to Australia by sea on my watch."
Ms Andrews said Border Force had assured her that they are "well accommodating" the family on Christmas Island.
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