A refugee baby being treated at an Australian hospital will not immediately be sent to an offshore prison on the remote island of Nauru, the Australian government says.
However, the one-year-old girl, known by the pseudonym Asha, could later be deported along with her Nepalese parents should they be found not to be genuine refugees.
Australia’s immigration minister Peter Dutton, speaking in the city of Brisbane on Sunday, said Asha would join other people living in community detention in Australia.
“The advice I have received is the doctors from the hospital have said the baby’s treatment has concluded and they would be happy for the baby to go out into community detention,” Dutton told the state broadcaster ABC.
“That’s what we have proposed all along, but at some point, if people have matters finalised in Australia, they will be returning to Nauru.”
Dutton said the Asha case had been “hijacked” by refugee advocates and that the government’s position was unchanged.
“I’m not sure if they are interested in the best interests of the child. I am. I want to look at each case, people can go into community detention – I have said to you before I want to get the number of children in detention down to zero.”
Doctors and activists had fought hard to prevent the forced return of Asha and her parents to a prison for asylum seekers on Nauru.
Asha was being treated at Brisbane’s Lady Cilento Children’s Hospital for serious burns after she was scalded with hot water on the island of Nauru in January.
Staff at the hospital a week ago refused to release Asha, who was born in Australia to Nepalese parents who arrived by boat, until a “suitable home environment is identified”, according to a statement. Protests have been held outside the hospital for more than a week.
Australian human rights lawyer Brynn O’Brien told Al Jazeera that the fact Asha would not be imminently deported was “the result of a hugely successful campaign by the people of Brisbane”.
“My reading is that this is a concession for the moment and that the parents still form part of the cohort that could be returned to Nauru,” O’Brien said.
Activist group Getup, which launched a national #LetThemStay movement to allow Asha and another 266 people set to be returned to offshore detention centres to remain in Australia, and applauded medical staff and protesters for forcing the government into an “historic backdown”.
“The government’s decision today is a watershed moment. Dutton’s decision essentially concedes that Nauru is completely unsuitable for any human being, and the position of doctors on this subject is the final word,” Shen Narayanasamy, Human Rights Director at Getup, said.
Natasha Blucher, the family’s advocate from the Darwin Asylum Seeker Support and Advocacy Network, said that baby Asha’s mother would be “very relieved” by Sunday’s development.
“This last week has been incredibly stressful and all she has sought is to be able to live in the community like everyone else,” Blucher said.
“I know that Asha’s mother will be overwhelmingly grateful to all of the incredible people who have stood outside the hospital for over a week.”
The Human Rights Law Centre’s Director of Legal Advocacy, Daniel Webb, said Sunday’s announcement was a significant change in position.
“A week ago we had to file an urgent case in the highest court in the country to stop the government from secretively deporting this baby to Nauru. Now the family is being released into the community. It’s a massive turnaround,” said Webb.