An Australian court is expected to decide Monday if the hundreds of refugees stranded off Christmas Island for more than a week can enter Australian territory, a move the government has fiercely opposed.
The court is to rule on a lawsuit by civil rights organizations that are seeking to let the migrants enter Australia.
But if the court decides in the government's favor, Australian Prime Minister John Howard says naval vessels on standby near Christmas Island will transfer the 460 asylum seekers from the Norwegian freighter that has given them refuge to an Australian troop transport.
It would take them first to Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea. There they would board flights for New Zealand and the Pacific island of Nauru, where their applications for political asylum would be processed. If they win asylum, the refugees will be redirected to third countries for resettlement, including Australia.
The migrants have languished on the cramped deck of the Norwegian freighter since August 26th, when they were rescued from a sinking Indonesian ferry, which was heading to Australia.
The Australian government -- deluged in recent months with refugee applications -- says it will not accept any additional refugees. Australia's refusal to allow the migrants entry touched off the humanitarian stalemate.
Indonesia has also refused to take the refugees in.
Norway, the United Nations, Indonesia and Afghanistan say Australia's refusal to accept the migrants violates international refugee and maritime law.