Many Australians are outraged after the country's top court ruled on Wednesday that the federal government’s controversial policy of holding asylum seekers in offshore detention centers was legal.
Using the hashtag #LetThemStay, human rights lawyers, politicians, religious groups and ordinary people flooded Facebook and Twitter with messages of shock, anger and disbelief at the 6-1 majority ruling.
Many of the posts are urging people to attend nationwide protests on Thursday to ramp up pressure on the government to let the asylum seekers remain in Australia. They're also calling for the government to close the offshore detention centers on Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island and Nauru, where more than 1,400 people are being held.
“Look at these babies faces, think about what we all know happens on Nauru — molestation and rape, illness and neglect, murder. See you on the streets tomorrow,” Domani Madigan wrote on Facebook.
“Imagine if it was your child, brother, sister, niece or nephew,” Matthew Richards also posted on Facebook.
“Not illegal. Still immoral. Offshore detention is systematic cruelty perpetrated on our behalf and we condone it with our silence. Sign petitions, attend protests, let our government know that this is not what we want,” Joel Holwerda said on Facebook.
The High Court case was brought on behalf of a Bangladeshi woman who had been detained on Nauru before being sent to Australia for medical treatment, where she gave birth to a baby girl.
In an attempt to stop authorities from sending the woman back to the island, lawyers mounted a legal challenge, arguing it was unconstitutional for the Australian government to fund and operate detention centers in another country.
The appalling conditions inside Australia's offshore detention centers and the deteriorating mental health of many of the people held there — some of whom have been in detention for years hoping to be allowed into Australia — are well documented and have drawn scathing criticism from the United Nations and other human rights organizations, which accuse the government of breaching international laws.
There have been reports of torture, murder, sexual abuse and rape inside the camps, but whistleblowers risk criminal prosecution if they speak out under tough laws that came into force last year.
Yet the government insists its tough border-control policies — which include turning back people-smuggling boats trying to reach Australia, and resettling people found to be genuine refugees in Papua New Guinea or Cambodia — have saved lives by deterring people from making the dangerous journey and drowning at sea.
"The people smugglers will not prevail over our sovereignty," Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull told parliament after the High Court decision was announced.
"Our borders are secure. The line has to be drawn somewhere and it is drawn at our border."