Australian court rejects challenge to offshore refugee detention
Australia's highest court Wednesday opened the way for hundreds of asylum-seekers to be transferred to a remote Pacific outpost.
Sydney: Australia's highest court today opened the way for hundreds of asylum-seekers to be transferred to a remote Pacific outpost, including women allegedly sexually assaulted there, when it dismissed a challenge to a hardline immigration policy.
The High Court case was brought by a Bangladeshi woman who arrived on an unauthorised boat and was dispatched to the tiny island republic of Nauru before being brought to Australia for urgent medical treatment during a pregnancy.
She sought a declaration that Australia's conduct in sending her to Nauru was unlawful in a challenge seen as a test case for more than 260 asylum-seekers, including 37 babies born in Australia and 54 other children, lawyers said.
But the High Court ruled six to one that the Australian government's arrangements for offshore detention on Nauru did not breach Australian law.
Canberra's hardline immigration policy ensures that asylum-seekers arriving in Australia by boat are sent to Nauru and Papua New Guinea.
Even if the detainees are subsequently found to be genuine refugees they are denied resettlement in Australia – a policy which has drawn international criticism.
The Human Rights Law Centre, which brought the case for the woman, said the mother and her husband -- with a one-year-old baby -- were now terrified of being sent back to Nauru where some 537 asylum-seekers are currently housed. A further 922 men are held on PNG's Manus Island.
"The legality is one thing, the morality is another," said the centre's Daniel Webb.
Webb said that among the group at risk of being transferred to Nauru were women who had allegedly been sexually assaulted on the island as well as 37 babies born in Australia.
"Ripping kids out of primary school and sending them to be indefinitely warehoused on a tiny remote island is wrong," he added.
Webb would not comment on the case of a five-year-old boy who was reportedly brought to Australia after being sexually assaulted on Nauru.
Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said he was seeking more information on that case, but stressed it would be considered compassionately.
"We are not going to send kids into harm's way," the minister told Sky News.
"But we are saying very firmly that if you don't have a legitimate claim for refuge in Australia then we want to help you go back to your country of origin."
Australia has long defended its hardline policy, saying it has prevented the deaths of asylum-seekers at sea and secured its borders.