SYDNEY (Reuters) - Hundreds of Australians held an overnight vigil outside a hospital treating a baby girl facing repatriation to an offshore immigration detention camp, blocking exits amid reports she would be removed imminently.
Doctors at the Lady Cilento Children's Hospital in Brisbane have refused to release the girl following treatment for serious burns, adding to pressure on the government over its tough asylum seekers policy.
The one-year-old girl, known only as Asha, and her parents face being returned to a camp on the tiny South Pacific island of Nauru, about 3,000 km (1,800 miles) northeast of Australia. The detention center, which houses more than 500 people, has been widely criticized for harsh conditions and reports of systemic child abuse.
Earlier this month, the High Court rejected a legal test case that challenged Australia's right to deport 267 refugee children and their families who had been brought to Australia from Nauru for medical treatment.
Doctors have refused to release her until a "suitable home environment is identified."
However, refugee advocates said British security firm Serco, which runs detention centers in Australia had a heightened presence at the hospital and called for people to join the peaceful blockade.
Daniel Webb, Director of Legal Advocacy at the Human Rights Law Centre, said he had been denied access to Asha's family.
"At this time we can't contact our client - Asha's mother - and she can't contact us," Webb said in a statement.
Kon Karapanagiotidis, chief executive of the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre said the family had been told by immigration officials on Saturday they would be moved "not to Nauru but would not say where."
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has said deportation of the 267 children will be decided "on a case by case basis." The immigration office could not immediately be reached on Sunday for comment on Asha's situation.
Asha was flown from Nauru to Brisbane for treatment for serious burns last month.
The Australian government and its policy of sending asylum seekers who attempt to reach the country by boat to camps on Nauru or on Manus island in Papua New Guinea. They are not offered resettlement in Australia.
The government says the policies are necessary to stop asylum seekers drowning aboard the unseaworthy vessels used by people smugglers to ship them from Indonesia to Australia.
(Reporting By Jane Wardell; Editing by Marguerita Choy)