The High Court of Australia dismissed a challenge to offshore immigration detention camps on Wednesday, paving the way for the deportation of dozens of infants born in Australia to detained asylum seekers.
In its decision, the court rejected the case of an unidentified Bangladeshi woman who challenged Australia’s right to deport detained asylum seekers to the South Pacific island nation of Nauru.
The detention center on Nauru island houses almost 500 people and has been criticised by the United Nations and human rights agencies for harsh conditions and reports of child abuse.
The Bangladeshi woman was on a boat intercepted by Australian authorities in October 2013. She was arrested on Christmas island, a remote Australian territory in the Indian Ocean, and later sent to the detention centre on Nauru island.
After she was transferred to Australia for medical treatment in 2014, she gave birth to a daughter and has stayed there with her child.
Other asylum seekers with children born in Australia in similar circumstances are now on the verge of returning to the camps.
Lawyers from the Human Rights Law Centre (HRLC) defending the Bangladeshi woman said that it was illegal for Australia to operate and pay for offshore detention in a third country.
"I hope that the immigration minister and the prime minister, just like other decent Australians, can see that there is simply no excuse to take 37 babies, to rip children from their classrooms, and warehouse them on a tiny island," HRLC Director of Legal Advocacy Daniel Webb told reporters.
"Now, the legality may be complex. The politics may be complex. But the morality is simple. It is fundamentally wrong," Webb added.
In response, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull defended the ruling.
"Our commitment today is simply this: the people smugglers will not prevail over our sovereignty," Turnbull told parliament.
"Our borders are secure. The line has to be drawn somewhere and it is drawn at our border," he added.
Children born in Australia to non-citizens or parents without legal residency are not entitled to citizenship until after their 10th birthday, and then only if they have lived most of their lives in Australia.
According to Australia’s controversial immigration ruling, asylum seekers trying to reach the country by sea are intercepted and sent to camps on Nauru, nearly 3,000 km northeast of Australia or on Manus island in Papua New Guinea.
The ruling allows Australian Immigration Minister Peter Dutton to fulfil his pledge to deport the infants. Fifty four children and more than 150 adult family members have been brought to Australia from Nauru for medical treatment.
UNICEF described the decision as "unreasonable" in a statement and called on the goverment not to move ahead with the deportations.
A similar test case challenging the legal status of Australia's offshore processing operation in Papua New Guinea was rejected by the same court in June 2014.