A young family of Tamil asylum seekers living in central Queensland had their lives upended last year when Australian Border Force (ABF) officers raided their home and took them to an immigration detention centre. A series of court appeals, injunctions, halted flights and transfers have taken place since, begging the question: how much is it costing the government to remove this family of four?

In short, it has cost the government upward of $2 million dollars to try to deport husband and wife Nades and Priya, and their two Australian-born daughters Kopika, four, and Tharunicaa, two, to Sri Lanka where the family claim they are at risk of persecution. Nades and Priya arrived in Australia by boat in 2012 and 2013, before getting married in Australia and having children.

The costings take into account the price of the court’s fees, but not the costs of the lawyers’ time and preparation.

The amount spent on attempting to refoul Priya and Nades reveals the lengths the Coalition government has gone to in order to remove them from Australia. The family found refuge in the regional town of Biloela, where they have lived for the past four years. The local Biloela community has rallied strongly behind them and campaigned for them to stay.

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Crunching the numbers

On March 5, 2018, the family was woken up by ABF and Serco officers at their Queensland home and flown to a detention centre in Victoria. A one-way commercial flight from Gladstone Airport to Melbourne Airport for a family — if arranged last minute and going by Qantas’ metrics today — costs around $2016. 

According to Priya, there were about 20 guards. If we take the average salary of an ABF officer to be $91,029 (it can range from $53,937 to $128,120), the daily combined salaries of these officers would amount to around $7000.

The family was placed in an immigration detention facility in Broadmeadows. A week later they were put on a plane heading for Sri Lanka, but an injunction stalled the deportation, ending the trip in Perth.

They were then returned to the Melbourne detention centre. The flight and turnback would have amounted to $4581 according to Qantas’ booking system if it was carried out now.

The bulk of the costs came from detaining the family in Melbourne, where they remained until August 29, 2019.  According to figures from the Refugee Council of Australia published in March this year, it costs $346,660 to hold one person in an onshore detention facility annually. The four family members were in onshore detention for 17 months, meaning the cost of keeping them detained sits at more than $1.9 million.

The family lost its appeal to stay in Australia in June 2018, with the Federal Circuit Court upholding the Immigration Assessment Authority’s findings that the family had no genuine refugee case. The family’s lawyers lodged another appeal, which was dismissed in December last year, however the judge ordered the department not to deport the family until after February 1 2019, blowing out legal costs further.

In May, the High Court refused to hear the family’s case. The legal fee for a special leave application costs $3365.

Last month, the family was once again removed from immigration detention in Melbourne and put on a charter flight to Sri Lanka. A last-minute federal court injunction –– which can cost between $300 and $7000 depending on the case — meant they were removed from the plane in Darwin. The cost of chartering a small to mid-sized aircraft can reach as much as $5000 an hour.

In Darwin, they were moved around between a motel and the military base, before being put on a flight to Christmas Island. The amount for flights would total, as an estimate, $6728. 

Priya claimed there were about 50 guards placing their family on the plane last month with four other asylum seekers en route to Sri Lanka. Going back to the average ABF officer daily salary, a ballpark of 50 guards would cost $17,500.

The family has been on the recently reopened Christmas Island detention centre since the start of September. It costs more than $573,000 a year to keep an asylum seeker in offshore detention — several hundred thousand more than onshore. For the past 10 days, it has cost $62,795 to keep Priya, Nades and their daughters in detention. Aran Mylvaganam from the Tamil Refugee Council, who is helping to see the family’s case through, said there are several guards watching them at all hours.

Now they wait.

(Image: AAP/James Ross)