Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull refused on Monday (February 8) to back down on his tough immigration stance as 267 refugees are set to be sent home or to an offshore immigration centre following a court ruling.
Australia's High Court last week upheld the government's right to deport detained asylum seekers to the tiny South Pacific island of Nauru, about 3,000 km (1,800 miles) northeast of Australia.
The decision provoked criticism from the United Nations and sparked protest, with church leaders offering asylum seekers sanctuary.
The centre has been widely criticised for harsh conditions and reports of systemic child abuse and sexual assault.
The refugees, along with their 37 babies, had been brought to Australia from Nauru for medical treatment.
Under Australia's controversial immigration policy, asylum seekers trying to reach the country by boat are intercepted and sent to camps on Nauru or on Manus island in Papua New Guinea. They can never be resettled in Australia.
Both the ruling conservative Liberal Party of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and centre-left Labor Party support the policy, which was introduced by former Labor Prime Minister Kevin Rudd.
"We are working to ensure they return to their countries of origin or a settled in other countries, in third countries as quickly as we can. It's not easy but we're endeavouring to do that, we're working hard to do that but I can say one thing Mr Speaker, we will not abandon our commitment to keeping the high seas safe, to keeping our borders secure, to ensuring that our policies have integrity and security," Turnbull told MP's in parliament on Monday.
Both sides argue that the policy of deterrence is necessary to stop asylum seekers dying at sea while attempting to make the sea crossing on often rickety boats used by people smugglers.
The numbers trying to reach Australia are small in comparison with the floods of asylum seekers in Europe, the issue is a perennial hot-button political issue both at home and abroad.
On Monday Australia announced the appointment of veteran politician Philip Ruddock as its first special envoy for human rights.