The High Court in Australia on Wednesday rejected a challenge to the country’s offshore detention policy brought by a Bangladeshi detainee, a setback for opponents of the controversial program.
Asylum-seekers who try to reach Australia by boat are detained on the tiny Pacific island of Nauru or on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea.
Lawyers argued it was illegal for the Australian government to fund and run the offshore camps.
Acting for a Bangladeshi woman brought to Australia for medical treatment, they took their case to the High Court in Canberra, where they had hoped to have the offshore detention system declared unlawful.
However, after months of deliberation the judges decided that offshore processing of asylum-seekers was valid under the constitution.
The ruling means more than 250 migrants, including dozens of babies and children, are likely to be sent from Australia to Nauru.
One of the youngsters facing deportation to Nauru is a 5-year-old boy allegedly raped at the detention center.
Greens’ Senator Sarah Hanson-Young said deportation is a terrible way to treat vulnerable people.
“Sending children back to Nauru is child abuse. All of the adults that are here on the mainland are here because they've suffered trauma and medical issues as a result of being in the island prison,” Hanson-Young said.
During the High Court case, the Australian government amended the law to close a loophole in its offshore funding arrangements, which officials feared could be undermined by the legal challenge.
The changes gave the authorities the explicit power to pay foreign countries like Nauru to run detention centers.
Before the decision was handed down, Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said he intended to send a large group of asylum-seekers currently in Australia back to Nauru, should the case go the government’s way.
”We are not going to allow people who seek to come to our country by boat to settle here permanently, so we want to make sure that we can deliver a border protection system which is robust, as it must be, because as we're seeing in Europe at the moment, millions of people would seek to come to our country by boat,” Dutton said.
Australia offers resettlement to about 14,000 people each year through international humanitarian programs.
Last year, the conservative government said it would also accept an additional 12,000 people fleeing the conflict in Syria.