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Fate of Australia-based asylum seekers lies in the hands of High Court -

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MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: The High Court is set to hand down a judgement today that could determine the future of Australia's offshore detention policies.

It will rule on a test case that challenges the Government's policy of transferring asylum seekers to offshore centres.

If the challenge is successful, refugee lawyers say it will undermine the legal basis of offshore detention.

If it doesn't get up, it could lead to hundreds of asylum seekers, including 37 babies, being sent from Australia back to Nauru.

Human rights advocates say this would cause an international outrage.

Michael Edwards has this report.

MICHAEL EDWARDS: Professor David Isaacs is one of a group of doctors with experience treating asylum seeker children on Nauru.

And the picture the paediatric infectious diseases expert paints of life on the island isn't pleasant.

DAVID ISAACS: It's hot and humid, people live in tents, there's no running water near the tents so you have to walk at night, and during the day 120 metres to the nearest showers and toilets.

There's nothing much for the children to do so they sat around and were miserable.

The parents were depressed and angry about what was happening to them. They'd been there on average 14 months.

MICHAEL EDWARDS: More than 250 asylum seekers are in Australia after being removed from Nauru, mostly for medical concerns.

But the future of these people, which includes 37 babies, is in limbo.

Their fate could be decided by a High Court ruling due to be handed down today.

Human Rights lawyers have challenged the Federal Government's policy of sending asylum seekers arriving by boat to detention at centres on Manus Island and Nauru.

If they lose, the Australia-based asylum seekers could be sent back to offshore detention centres.

SHEN NARAYANASAMY: Well, at stake is the lives of 297 of the world's most vulnerable people.

MICHAEL EDWARDS: That's Shen Narayanasamy, the human rights director at Get Up.

She says even if the ruling goes against the asylum seekers, the Government will face considerable pressure if it sends the group back to Nauru or Manus.

SHEN NARAYANASAMY: I mean, I think the Government faces a very, very difficult fight to try and rip these people out of schools and communities here and drag them back to Nauru.

And I think we'd say to the Government at this point, you know, there's 297 people here. Why go to the expense and the trauma of sending them back to somewhere where we know they have no future? Why not just let them stay?

MICHAEL EDWARDS: Asylum seekers have reported rapes and assaults on Nauru.

Lawyer Daniel Webb, from the Human Rights Law Centre, is leading the case on behalf of the asylum seekers.

DANIEL WEBB: Well the case looks at whether our Government can fund and can actively participate in the detention of innocent people in other countries.

We know it can lock people up in Australia. We know it can deport people from Australia. But it's another thing altogether to spend billions of dollars locking up innocent people in other countries.

MICHAEL EDWARDS: Daniel Webb believes whatever the High Court decides, the case will be a big test for the Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.

DANIEL WEBB: The stroke of a pen is all that it would take for Malcolm Turnbull and Peter Dutton to do the decent thing and let these very vulnerable people stay.

We're talking about 37 babies who were born in Australia. We're talking about 54 kids, many of whom have been going to school in Melbourne or Sydney or Darwin for the last year.

Now these are kids who've had tough lives. They are just starting to rebuild them. It would be tremendously cruel to rip them from their classrooms and send them back to Nauru now.

MICHAEL EDWARDS: A spokesman for the Immigration Minister Peter Dutton says no comment will be made about the High Court challenge until after the ruling is handed down.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Michael Edwards.