Australia’s High Court rejects a challenge to the policy of holding asylum seekers offshore, meaning scores of people will likely be deported to Nauru.
Australia’s High Court has ruled that the government’s policy of detaining asylum seekers offshore is legal.
The court rejected a challenge brought by lawyers for one detainee who argued the policy was unconstitutional.
The ruling means more than 250 people, including 37 babies, are likely to be deported to a detention camp on the Pacific island nation of Nauru.
Anyone who tries to reach Australia by boat to claim asylum is taken to Nauru or Manus Island in Papua New Guinea.
The policy has been fiercely criticised by rights groups and the UN, while Australian senators have said Nauru is not safe for children.
Analysis: Jon Donnison, BBC News, Sydney
This is a significant victory for Australia’s conservative government and its tough stance towards asylum seekers.
Despite considerable pressure from human rights groups as well as the United Nations the government has not shifted course.
For several years now Australia has effectively outsourced its asylum seeker problem, paying hundreds of millions of dollars to both Nauru and Papua New Guinea to house offshore detention centres. The court ruling judged that to be legal.
Human rights groups say the ruling will mean more than 200 asylum seekers who came to Australia to seek medical treatment including 37 babies born here as well as around 50 children will be forced to leave and return to Nauru.
There has been particular controversy around the case of a 5-year-old boy who was allegedly raped while being detained in Nauru but who could now be forced to go back.
The government says it will seek medical advice before making a decision regarding the boy. Despite widespread criticism internationally towards Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers, polls show the policies which have stopped asylum seekers trying to reach Australia’s shores are broadly popular here with the public.
The High Court case was brought by an unnamed Bangladeshi woman who was held on Nauru but taken to Australia for medical treatment.
In what was seen as a test case for other detainees, her lawyers had argued her detention was unconstitutional. But the court rejected this.
Human rights lawyer Claire Hammerton told the BBC said the deportations now expected to take place would double the child population on Nauru.
Ms Hammerton said the evidence of extreme mental health problems suffered by children in Nauru was compelling, but that the ruling was the last chance to challenge it.
“Unfortunately this is it, given that this is the highest court of the land there are no options for appeal,” she said.
“Children in detention in Australia who are slated to be transferred to Nauru consistently tell us they are living with daily fear and anxiety about being sent there. These children they don’t understand why they are being treated like criminals.”
Rights groups said the government did not have the right to send the detainees back to the camps. They argued that the government was violating the constitution by funding offshore detention.
They have reported harsh conditions, violence and abuses at the camps.
Demonstrators have gathered outside the High Court in the capital Canberra, and nationwide protests are being organised.