Australia has inadvertently made public the identities of almost 10,000 asylum seekers, the department of immigration has said, raising concerns it could help locate people fleeing persecution.

A file, published on a government website by mistake, held the names, nationalities and locations of nearly a third of all people held in Australia's immigration detention network. It is unclear how long the information was available to the public.

"This information was never intended to be in the public domain," an immigration department spokeswoman said on Wednesday. 

[A] failure to care for vulnerable people who are fleeing for their lives.

Thousands of refugees have had their private details published online and the government must now take that into account when considering their claims for protection.

Sarah Hanson-Young, Australian Greens

"The file has been removed and the department is investigating how this occurred to ensure that it does not happen again", she added, according to Reuters news agency.

The lapse was first reported by the Guardian Australia website, which informed the government of the breach, leading it to block access to the information.

International scrutiny

The incident comes as Prime Minister Tony Abbott's tough stance on asylum seekers has been receiving fresh scrutiny after a series of events, including violent riots, involving its policy of transferring asylum seekers to third countries.

Australia uses detention centres in Papua New Guinea and on the tiny Pacific island of Nauru to process would-be refugees who are sent there after trying to get to Australia, often in unsafe boats after paying people smugglers in Indonesia.

An asylum seeker was killed and at least 77 were injured on Monday in the second riot this week at the Papua New Guinea facility on Manus island, leading to calls from critics for its closure.

The United Nations has condemned Australia's immigration detention centres as inhumane.

Australia's arrangement with Nauru has also come under fire in recent weeks, following a series of moves by the government there that critics call authoritarian and anti-democratic.

Sarah Hanson-Young, of the Australian Greens political party, called the data breach, one of the largest in recent memory in Australia, an example of the government's "failure to care for vulnerable people who are fleeing for their lives".

"Thousands of refugees have had their private details published online and the government must now take that into account when considering their claims for protection," she said in a statement.

Source: Reuters