The federal government faces increased pressure over its handling of 157 asylum seekers being brought to the Australian mainland after weeks of detention at sea.
While immigration officials will not confirm the movements, the asylum seekers are due to reach land late Saturday before being transferred to Curtin detention centre in Western Australia.
The Australian Greens describe the process as inhumane and Labor accuses Immigration Minister Scott Morrison of “grubby” political point-scoring.
And a government deal with India to take back members of the group might not be legal, a refugee lawyer says.
“The asylum seekers, including children, have been through an awful ordeal and should not be taken to Curtin, which is a hellhole,” Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young said.
“There is a reason they are being sent to the middle of the desert … and it’s to keep them as far away as possible,” she said, adding that the government must ensure the group’s access to lawyers.
Mr Morrison has confirmed the group will undergo identity checks by Indian consular officials, and India has agreed to take back any of its citizens and will consider taking Sri Lankan nationals who are Indian non-citizen residents.
He expected many of many of those detained would return home.
But Asylum Seeker Resource Centre chief executive Kon Karapanagiotidis says the deal with India has raised serious concerns.
“It’s deeply problematic and I don’t think it’s fair. I question whether it is legal, and we have a legal process to deal with those questions,” he said.
The group has been detained on board a customs vessel at an undisclosed location at sea since their boat was intercepted 27km from Christmas Island on July 7.
The decision to bring them to land pre-empts a High Court challenge against the detention.
“The government has folded on bringing the asylum seekers off the prison ship onto the mainland because they are afraid of what the High Court will say,” Senator Hanson-Young said.
But government MP Dan Tehan insisted the process had been carefully considered and was methodical and moving towards the right result.
“We want to ensure that the Australian government controls the immigration system … that the people smugglers aren’t doing it,” he told Sky News on Saturday.
Labor’s Jim Chalmers said Mr Morrison was focused on a narrow and grubby political strategy.
“These people should have been taken to Christmas Island much earlier,” he said.