Priya Nadesalingam says it feels good her family has its own place in Biloela after four years in Australian immigration detention.
Sunday marked an end to a chapter which began in 2018 when Border Force officials took them from the Queensland town.
The family celebrated youngest daughter Tharnicaa’s fifth birthday with the whole town on Sunday, after returning to their Australian home on Friday and attending a festival there on Saturday.
Speaking to Ten’s The Project, Priya said the family’s time in detention was a “very hard, lonely feeling”.
“No other detainees [at Christmas Island], no good medical, my children’s childhood lost, my beauty, my everything lost in four years,” she said in the interview aired on Sunday night.
Priya doesn’t believe her family’s return to Biloela will encourage a resurgence of asylum seekers trying to reach Australia, with husband Nades saying their experience had been “very hard” and would instead discourage potential future arrivals.
Both Kopika and Tharnicaa hope to be doctors when they grow older, while their parents plan to open the Queensland outback town’s first Sri Lankan restaurant.
Earlier on Sunday, balloons, cake and overwhelming joy set the tone as locals gathered at a nearby park to celebrate Tharni’s fifth birthday.
“I think for a lot of us, that’s when it hit that this is what we’ve been fighting for,” social worker and Biloela local Angela Fredericks said.
“For them to be able to walk to their local park here, you know have the stereotypical birthday in the park, which we do here. So this is why we did this.”
Today is a momentous day for the Tamil family that call Biloela home. After four long years in detention, where they captured Australia’s heart, the Nadesalingam family is finally home to Bilo. @Lisa_Wilkinson joins us from Bilo.#TheProjectTV pic.twitter.com/ceGnTwvZBK
— The Project (@theprojecttv) June 10, 2022
The festive scene was a welcome contrast to last year, when Tharni was forced to spend her birthday in Perth Children’s Hospital being treated for sepsis caused by untreated pneumonia.
She beamed alongside her parents Nades and Priya as she and her older sister Kopika, seven, were presented with a large slab cake decorated in pink and yellow.
Ms Fredericks launched the online petition to bring the Tamil asylum seekers home four years ago after they were removed in 2018.
She said the family is overwhelmed with the outpouring of support. Strangers have been cheering “welcome home” and hugging them after their four-year nightmare came to an end.
Refugee organisation People Just Like Us (PJLU) is now calling for all refugees and asylum seekers on bridging visas to be given permanent protection.
Priya and Nades arrived by boat in Australia as asylum seekers fleeing the civil war in Sri Lanka, before they met and had their two girls.
In March 2018, the federal government attempted to deport them before an 11th-hour court injunction saw the four held at the Christmas Island detention centre for two years.
They were then moved to community detention in Perth before the new federal Labor government granted them bridging visas after coming to power in May.
The family are seeking permanent residency, with Prime Minister Anthony Albanese seeing “no impediment” to it being granted.