Nadesalingam family celebrate Tharnicaa’s fifth birthday in Biloela


Sri Lankan refugee family’s daughter celebrates her fifth birthday days after they returned to Biloela following four-year battle to stay in Australia – and the whole town turns up to watch her cut the cake

  • Tharnicaa Nadesalingam celebrated her fifth birthday in Biloela on Sunday
  • Tharni and her family spent four years in detention before returning to Biloela
  • Balloons, cake and overwhelming joy set the tone of the birthday celebration

A Tamil family that was relocated to a town in outback Queensland after being detained for four years have celebrated their daughter’s fifth birthday with locals. 

Tharnicaa Nadesalingam was surrounded by balloons and cake as locals sang ‘Happy Birthday’ to her in a park in Biloela on Sunday.

‘Tharni’ and her family returned to the town on Friday where they were met by a crowd of excited residents waving banners and cheering them on. 

‘Oh my God, everyone’s just got the biggest grins on their faces,’ social worker and Biloela local Angela Fredericks said.

Tharnicaa Nadesalingam (centre) has celebrated her fifth birthday in her hometown of Biloela, four years after being detained under the previous coalition government

Tharnicaa Nadesalingam (centre) has celebrated her fifth birthday in her hometown of Biloela, four years after being detained under the previous coalition government

Balloons, cake and overwhelming joy set the tone as locals gathered at a nearby park in the Queensland outback town on Sunday (pictured, Tharni's father Nades Nadesalingam)

Balloons, cake and overwhelming joy set the tone as locals gathered at a nearby park in the Queensland outback town on Sunday (pictured, Tharni’s father Nades Nadesalingam)

‘When the family arrived and they walked down, the girls had little tiaras on and the birthday girl had a sash and they wore pretty pink dresses.

‘I think for a lot of us, that’s when it hit that this is what we’ve been fighting for, 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. This is what we’re fighting for.’

The festive scene was a welcome contrast to last year, when little Tharni was forced to spend her birthday in Perth Children’s Hospital, where she was 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.

‘We had a lovely big slab cake that was for both girls because we missed four years of birthdays, for Kopika as well,’ Ms Fredericks said.

‘Then we had a beautiful pink cake that had a little koala on top as well. That was at Tharnica’s request.’

Ms Fredericks launched the online petition to bring the Tamil asylum seekers home four years ago after they were removed by Border Force officials in March 2018.

She said the family is overwhelmed with the outpouring of support.

'Oh my God, everyone's just got the biggest grins on their faces,' social worker and Biloela local Angela Fredericks said

‘Oh my God, everyone’s just got the biggest grins on their faces,’ social worker and Biloela local Angela Fredericks said

The festive scene was a welcome contrast to last year, when little Tharni was forced to spend her birthday in Perth Children's Hospital, where she was being treated for sepsis caused by untreated pneumonia

The festive scene was a welcome contrast to last year, when little Tharni was forced to spend her birthday in Perth Children’s Hospital, where she was being treated for sepsis caused by untreated pneumonia

‘They’re just getting more and more relaxed each day,’ she said.

‘They were so overwhelmed with all the love and support over this weekend. They’ve seen it all in one place and so I think that’s been incredibly overwhelming that they just feel so incredibly grateful.’

Strangers have been cheering ‘welcome home’ and hugging them after their four-year nightmare came to an end.

‘You can just see we’ve touched every corner of the community,’ Ms Fredericks said.

Refugee organisation People Just Like Us (PJLU) is now calling for all refugees and asylum seekers on bridging visas to be given permanent protection.

‘It is a story that resonates with warm Australians on a deep human, almost mythical, level. We feel proud to be generous and compassionate,’ said Fabia Claridge, the organisation’s co-convener.

Excited locals sang 'Happy Birthday' as they celebrated Tharni's first birthday back in Australia

Excited locals sang ‘Happy Birthday’ as they celebrated Tharni’s first birthday back in Australia

Nades and Priya Nadesalingam play the Limbo game at the birthday celebration in Biloela

Nades and Priya Nadesalingam play the Limbo game at the birthday celebration in Biloela

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 newly minted Labor government intervened when they came into power last month and gave them bridging visas.

The family are seeking permanent residency, with Prime Minister Anthony Albanese seeing ‘no impediment’ to it being granted.

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