Some of the 267 asylum seekers Australia wants to deport to an offshore immigration centre following a court ruling are suffering from cancer and other terminal illnesses, a senior government official said.
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 centre has been widely criticised for harsh conditions and reports of systemic child abuse and sexual assault.
Some deportations could begin within days, but others would have to be dealt with in a staged fashion, because of the illnesses, said Michael Pezzullo, secretary of the department of immigration and border protection.
The refugees, including 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.
Both the ruling conservative Liberal Party and the centre-left Labor Party support the policy.
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