Journalist Rebekah Holt, who has become close to the family, said she was woken up at 2am on Saturday morning to news that Priya, her husband Nadesalingam and their two young daughters had been moved.
“There’s no reason they couldn’t have been brought back to Melbourne after what happened, and it does feel especially vindictive on behalf of the Department of Home Affairs,” Ms Holt said.
Supporters on Friday afternoon had feared the family would be separated when they were brought onto the tarmac of Darwin Airport in the back of a white van.
The family’s immigration lawyer Carina Ford was finally told by lawyers representing Home Affairs about 5.30pm that they were still in Darwin and there was no intention to separate them.
The federal government was earlier blocked from deporting the family until 12pm on Friday after an emergency injunction was granted on Thursday night by a judge over the phone.
Federal Court Justice Mordecai Bromberg then extended the injunction for two-year-old Tharunicaa, blocking her removal from Australia until at least 4pm on Wednesday.
Ms Holt said she now had serious concerns for the health of Priya, because when they last spoke, Priya said she had still not been given her blood pressure medication, which was prescribed to her by a doctor in Melbourne on Wednesday.
“(Priya’s) someone who has not been well and is under enormous stress,” she said. “I have pragmatic concerns. I just want to know she’s got it.
“And two-year-old Tharunicaa, who the entire cases rests on and has suffered incredibly in detention, hasn’t eaten since they were snatched out of the centre in Melbourne. She keeps getting food that’s improper for her post-mouth surgery.”
Ms Holt said she was told by other asylum seekers that staff at the Melbourne detention centre, who had been involved with the family for 18 months, were seen crying on Friday, and young children ran into Kopika and Tharunicaa’s room and were calling out for them after their removal.
Ms Ford and the family’s advocates spent hours unsure of the Tamil family’s whereabouts after they were taken to the airport tarmac. Asked if they were being moved, Home Affairs earlier said it was “inappropriate to comment” while the matter was before the courts.
Family friend Vashini said the couple’s phones had been taken off them on Friday afternoon. Priya had asked for hers back and was not able to make a call for several hours.
Outside court, Ms Ford said the injunction for Tharunicaa wasn’t necessarily a win but said it would be “not a good look” to separate the toddler from her family.
“I would hope that common sense prevails in that regard.”
There is no guarantee under domestic law that the toddler would not be separated from her family, despite United Nations conventions to protect family unity.
The family had been taken by Australian Border Force (ABF) officers on Thursday from immigration detention to Melbourne Airport, where dozens of supporters scrambled to protest outside the private hangar in which they were being held.
An order from the ABF informed Priya and Nadesalingam that they were to be deported back to Sri Lanka with their two Australian-born daughters.
But the scheduled deportation was halted, forcing the charter plane which left Melbourne just before 11pm to take the family off the aircraft in Darwin about three hours later where they remain in a hotel.
Barrister Angel Aleksov, representing Tharunicaa, argued no assessment had been conducted as to whether she was owed protections and told the court that was “unreasonable in a legal sense”.
Christopher Tran, for the government, told the court that Tharunicaa’s application was “manifestly hopeless”.
Justice Bromberg would not be drawn on the merits of her application but agreed to restrain the government from removing her until 4pm Wednesday to allow Mr Aleksov to prepare the case.
It will return to the Federal Circuit Court on Monday morning and the Federal Court on Wednesday.
More to come
Rachel is a breaking news reporter for The Age.
Zach is a reporter at The Age. Got a story? Email me at email@example.com