Australia confirmed that it can detain asylum seekers in foreign countries

Protesters outside prime minister Malcolm Turnbull’s office.
Protesters outside prime minister Malcolm Turnbull’s office.
Image: Reuters/David Gray
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Australia’s High Court has rejected a challenge to the government’s policy of holding asylum seekers in detention centers in Nauru and Papua New Guinea.

The decision means that 267 asylum seekers, 37 of whom are children, now face being sent back to the remote island facilities that have attracted allegations of abuse (pdf). The would-be migrants were intercepted outside of Australia but brought to the country to receive medical treatment.

The court complaint was lodged by the Human Rights Law Centre (HRLC), an Australian NGO, which described the verdict as disappointing. “The legality is one thing, the morality is another,” said Daniel Webb, the organization’s director of legal advocacy.

HRLC cites the case of a young mother from Bangladesh, who was among the asylum seekers to receive medical treatment in Australia. In addition to challenging the legality of the centers, the organization argues that sending her out of the country is a violation of Australia’s constitution.

The court’s ruling means that the asylum seekers could be sent back to the offshore centers within days.

Malcolm Turnbull, Australia’s prime minister, reiterated that the country’s policy—which includes intercepting boats before they reach Australian waters—is designed to deter people smuggling. “Our commitment today is simply this: the people smugglers will not prevail over our sovereignty,” he said. “Our borders are secure. The line has to be drawn somewhere and it is drawn at our border.”