The United Nations refugee agency has warned Australia must consider the best interests of children following a High Court ruling that could pave the way for asylum seeker families to be returned to Nauru.
Immigration Minister Peter Dutton says the cases of 267 people in Australia whose hopes for resettlement were dashed by the decision will be considered individually, based on medical advice.
‘This decision by the High Court greatly concerns us as these children and their families face a great risk in being sent to a place that cannot be considered safe nor adequate,’ UN spokesman Benyam Mezmur said in a statement.
UN High Commissioner for Refugees spokesman Rupert Colville said the group of asylum seekers are in a fragile state and may have mental health issues.
‘Of course being sent back to this situation may just make them worse,’ he told ABC Radio.
He said it may be a breach of the convention against torture which covers cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment.
Meanwhile, churches and cathedrals are offering an ancient means of protection to 267 asylum seekers.
Over ten places of worship in Australia have declared a place of sanctuary for the asylum seekers, a practice used in medieval England to offer refuge from brutal and oppressive forces.
‘We offer this refuge because there is irrefutable evidence from health and legal experts that the circumstances asylum seekers, especially children, would face if sent back to Nauru are tantamount to state-sanctioned abuse,’ Anglican Dean of Brisbane Peter Catt said in a statement.
Immigration Minister Peter Dutton hit back at the UN warning, insisting that he has the children’s best interests at heart and won’t send them back to harm’s way.
‘We have to be compassionate on one hand but we have to be realistic about the threat from people smugglers,’ he told ABC Radio on Thursday.
Mr Dutton accused refugee advocates of wanting an open border policy that would put people’s lives at risk of drowning at sea.
‘We’re acting in the best interests not only for these children but children that would follow them,’ he said.