The United Nations voiced alarm Tuesday at Australia's decision to "actively and indefinitely separate" the family of a recognised refugee in the country by deporting her husband to Sri Lanka.
The UN refugee agency warned that "the deportation overnight of the father leaves his Sri Lankan partner, who is a recognised refugee, alone with their 11-month-old daughter."
UNHCR said that prior to the deportation it had appealed to the Australian government to allow the man to remain with his family, but to no avail.
The move, it warned in a statement, "contravenes the basic right of family unity, as well as the fundamental principle of the best interests of the child."
The UN has long criticised Australia's policy of "offshore processing and deterrence", which since 2013 has seen asylum seekers who have reached the country shipped off to remote camps in Nauru and Papua New Guinea.
UNHCR said Tuesday that that policy had led to numerous separations of refugee families, since those who arrive to Australia by sea have been prevented from reuniting with their loved ones in the country.
It said it was also aware of families separated when a spouse or parent is transferred from Nauru to Australia for medical reasons, including to give birth.
"The government of Australia has refused to allow them to be reunited in Australia, despite the fact that neither Nauru nor Papua New Guinea are considered suitable places of settlement for the vast majority of refugees," it said.
With the latest deportation, UNHCR warned that Australia had gone "beyond a refusal to reunite families to instead actively and indefinitely separate them."
It pointed out that Australia legislation prevents the Sri Lankan mother in the case from ever sponsoring her spouse to join her and their child in Australia.
Australian law also prevents her husband from ever obtaining even a short-term visa to visit his family, it said.