Asylum seeker row: Baby Asha can stay in Australia, for now

Scotia Monkivitch, one of about 50 protesters at the vigil for baby Asha at the Lady Cilento Hospital on Sunday. Photo: Cameron Atfield
Scotia Monkivitch, one of about 50 protesters at the vigil for baby Asha at the Lady Cilento Hospital on Sunday. Photo: Cameron Atfield
Baby Asha.

Baby Asha.

The asylum seeker baby who inspired protesters to stage a hospital vigil to stop her from being sent back to Nauru has been released into community detention in Australia.

On Monday morning, Immigration Minister Peter Dutton confirmed the child had been released from Brisbane's Lady Cilento Hospital.

But in a sign of the uncertainty over her fate, Mr Dutton confirmed that once the baby girl and her family's refugee claims were finalised, they would be sent back to Nauru, their home country or to a third country such as Cambodia.

Earlier this month, doctors in Brisbane said they would refuse to release the one-year-old, known as Asha, to immigration authorities unless a "suitable home environment is identified",  prompting protesters to camp outside the Lady Cilento​ Children's Hospital and block exits in support.

But Mr Dutton told reporters on Sunday that Asha and her family were always going to be moved into community detention, accusing refugee advocates of "hijacking" the debate for their own purposes. When asked why this community plan had not been made clear a week ago, Mr Dutton said that "it has been made very clear", adding some activists were more interested in "their own media profile".

The young child and her parents had been flown from Nauru in January, after Asha suffered burns in an accident in the island's detention centre.

On Saturday, there was speculation that Asha was about to be sent back to Nauru, with the Human Rights Law Centre saying it had been "refused access" to its client, Asha's mother.

This came as Australian Medical Association president Brian Owler strongly criticised the federal government's treatment of asylum seekers,

calling on the medical profession to resist the sending of children back to Nauru.

"There are time, in any nation, where the medical profession must act in the interests not only of our patients ... but act in the national interest," he told an AMA forum in Sydney.

On Sunday afternoon, the Immigration Minister stressed that there was no special treatment for Asha and her family. He said that as part of the government's plan to get children out of immigration detention, there were already "many" families living in community detention in Australia.

"Already in Australia we have 83 people that are here from Nauru, including women and children, who are living out in the community," he said.

Mr Dutton said people who were the subjects of the recent High Court case that ruled Australia's offshore detention regime was lawful, were also in community detention.

"We will work with ... families to remain in Australia whilst their medical and legal matters are finalised, and then they will go back to their country of origin," he said.

"If people don't want to go back to their country of origin, they go back to Nauru and then there's a possibility of going to Cambodia or other third country options."

After Mr Dutton's press conference, Professor Owler welcomed the decision on baby Asha but said it was not enough.

"It's just extraordinary that the minister has to be dragged kicking and screaming to a point to allow a baby to stay in Australia, to not be taken out of a hospital.

"You can blame everyone else, the AMA and other people for raising the issues but clearly anyone can see that that was the right thing to do in the first place" he told Fairfax Media.

The Human Rights Law Centre's director of legal advocacy Daniel Webb hailed the news on Sunday as a "massive turn-around" but called on the government to allow Asha and her family to "rebuild their lives in Australia with certainty".

"The politics may be complex but the morality is simple. Detention is no place for innocent, vulnerable people – neither is a tent on a tiny island," he said.

- with Deborah Snow and Jorge Branco

This story Asylum seeker row: Baby Asha can stay in Australia, for now first appeared on The Age.