Australian Christian leaders have been arrested after holding a prayer vigil at the office of the Minister for Justice, a result described as ironic by theologian and campaigner Jarrod McKenna.
The nine leaders from different Church traditions were protesting the deportation of 267 men, women and children to detention camps on the Pacific island of Nauru.
The majority of them are asylum seekers who were brought from the island to Australia because they needed treatment for serious medical conditions. More than 30 are babies born in Australia to asylum-seeker mothers.
Australia has refused to allow them to stay and has defended its hard-line approach to refugees, who are turned back at sea or detained in camps, arguing it deters people-traffickers. Some camps have been the scene of riots, sexual abuse and beatings and have been widely criticised by human rights groups.
The issue has been highly controversial in Australia, where campaigners have protested using the #lethemstay hashtag. Among the supporters of the asylum seekers is activist theologian Jarrod McKenna, who tweeted "IRONY: 9 faith leaders being arrested in the Minister for JUSTICE office for pleading #LetThemStay."
The Christian leaders, protesting as part of the faith-based Love Makes A Way movement, targeted the officer of Justice Minister Michael Keenan.
"No-one should be in detention on Nauru, where there is no functioning hospital – but it would be particularly cruel to rip children out of classrooms and send away these 37 babies born on Australian soil," said Love Makes a Way spokesperson Kate Leaney.
"In his maiden speech, Mr Keenan MP espoused the benefits of a multicultural Australia and the importance of freedom. We are here in part to pray and appeal to Mr Keenan that he might stand for the freedom from oppression for people seeking asylum on our shores," she said.
However, police arrested the protesters and removed them from the office. A Love Makes A Way statement said: "The peaceful, prayerful vigil was met with dignified and respectful police response.
"The same response is not expected for the 267 men, women and children vulnerable to be deported to offshore detention on Nauru."