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Australian Court Rules Against Indefinite Detention of Child Asylum Seekers

A court in Australia has ruled the government's indefinite detention of child asylum seekers is unlawful. Refugee advocates call the ruling a victory for human rights. The government, however, may appeal the decision handed down by the Family Court in Melbourne.

Refugee activists in Australia hope the ruling will eventually end the practice of holding children in refugee detention camps.

The ruling by the Family Court, however, does require the government to immediately free young detainees. The case must first go back to a lower court and there is likely to be an appeal by the government.

The judges ruled on a request from five children seeking to leave refugee facility they are being held in, on the grounds that their detention is harmful to their welfare.

Their case will now be heard again by a court in South Australia, which had previously ruled it had no jurisdiction over the detention camps.

The children's lawyer, Eric Vadarlis, says they must be set free.

"Once the court makes the decision to release them, the whole family should be released as one," he said. "These children - and we need to remember we are talking about children - deserve a chance in life. They're not getting it behind razor wire."

Under Australia's strict immigration laws, people who arrive without proper documentation and seek asylum are automatically placed in detention until their claims are processed. The government says this is necessary for health and security reasons.

Children are kept with their parents in the detention camps, which usually are in remote locations. The camps provide food, shelter, medical care and some schooling, but refugee activists say they are harsh places. There are just over 100 children in the centers.

Usually asylum claims are assessed within a few months but in some cases it can take years for the authorities to make a final decision.