Australia to move infant to community detention

Australian immigration department says baby Asha will be transferred to community detention center with mother until refugee status is confirmed

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Protesters against the Nauru detention centre hang from a bridge above a freeway in Melbourne, Australia, February 11, 2016.

Australia said on Sunday a baby girl facing repatriation to an offshore immigration detention camp would go to an onshore facility instead, easing tension that peaked in a blockade outside a hospital where she is a patient.

Doctors at the Lady Cilento Children's Hospital in Brisbane had refused to release the one-year-old girl after completion of her treatment for serious burns, adding to pressure on the government over its tough asylum seeker policy.

Federal Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said the infant, known only as Baby Asha, would shortly be released into community detention, which allows free movement, in Brisbane.

However, Dutton asserted that the family could still be returned to the detention camp on the Pacific island of Nauru, if they were not deemed to be genuine refugees.

“I also think it is an important message to send to those people with children living on Nauru at the moment, that there is a continuation of the government’s policy,”  he added.

Asha was flown last month from the Nauru centre, which houses more than 500 people, to Brisbane for hospital treatment. The facility has been widely criticised for harsh conditions and reports of systemic child abuse.

"The advice I've received is that the doctors from the hospital have said they would be happy for the baby to go out into community detention," Dutton told reporters.

"But at some point, if people have (asylum claim) matters finalised in Australia, then they will be returning to Nauru."

The High Court this month rejected a legal test case that challenged Australia's right to deport 267 refugee children and their families who had been brought to Australia from Nauru for medical treatment.

Hundreds of Australians held an overnight vigil at the hospital, blocking exits and stopping cars in a bid to halt Asha's removal.

The protest drew wide attention and support in Australia, with the Twitter hashtag #BabyAsha trending worldwide.

TRTWorld, Reuters