Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said yesterday he would not give in to "moral blackmail" after a dozen mothers in an asylum seeker camp reportedly attempted suicide in the hope their children could be settled in the country.
The Sydney Morning Herald said the women tried to kill themselves this week after being told they would be taken from a detention centre on Christmas Island to Papua New Guinea or Nauru.
Sources on the island said the women believed their children stood a better chance of being settled in Australia if they were orphans.
Any boat people who arrived in Australia after July 19 last year cannot be resettled in the country, regardless of whether they are genuine refugees.
They are instead sent to detention facilities or resettled on islands in the Pacific.
The report cited three independent sources, including lawyer Jacob Varghese, who is representing 72 asylum seeker babies.
The damaging claims come with Australia facing growing pressure over its controversial immigration policies, with High Court action under way over the fate of 153 Sri Lankans being held in custody on the high seas.
They are currently detained on a Customs boat as lawyers argue that any transfer back to Colombo would be illegal, with concerns about the way they were screened.
Previously, another boat carrying 41 Sri Lankans was returned, with the adults on board being charged on Tuesday in a Sri Lankan court with trying to leave the country illegally.
Abbott described the Christmas Island claims as "harrowing", but said his government would not be held hostage.
"This is not going to be a government which has our policy driven by people attempting to hold us over a moral barrel. We won't be driven by that," he said.
"The fact is that the people on Nauru are being clothed, housed, fed and above all else, they're safe. They are not going to be subjected to any persecution.
"Now, I don't believe that people ought to be able to say to us, 'Unless you accept me as a permanent resident, I am going to commit self-harm'.
"I don't believe any Australian would want us to capitulate to moral blackmail."
Christmas Island Shire Council president Gordon Thompson said the women believed that if they died, their orphaned children would have a better chance of being settled in Australia.
"They are saying, 'The babies have a better chance at life if I am dead,'" he said. "That's the state of helplessness in the centre."
The women, whose nationalities were not known, reportedly either tried to hang themselves or cut themselves with glass.
Labor opposition leader Bill Shorten accused Abbott of "washing his hands" of asylum seekers. He said: "You might not wish this was so, but these people are human beings in the care of Australia and the care of the Australian government."
Greens immigration spokeswoman Sarah Hanson-Young said she spoke to people in the Christmas Island camp, and there was truth to the reports of attempted suicides.
"Two nights ago, almost 10 mothers were on suicide watch," she said. "It's pretty horrific to push a mother to a point of saying, 'Well, if I need to sacrifice myself for my children, maybe that's what I'll do'," she said.
Palin demands Obama's impeachment
Sarah Palin has called for US President Barack Obama's impeachment over his handling of a growing immigration crisis, becoming the most prominent right-wing US politician to make the provocative demand.
The 2008 Republican vice presidential candidate wrote on conservative website Breitbart on Tuesday that Obama's "unsecured border crisis is the last straw," and that lawmakers should evict him from the White House, 30 months before his scheduled departure.
"It's time to impeach," Palin wrote, focusing on the president's use of executive orders to ram through legal action opposed by many Republicans.
"President Obama's rewarding of lawlessness, including his own, is the foundational problem here," she added.
"It's not going to get better, and in fact irreparable harm can be done in this lame duck term as he continues to make up his own laws as he goes along."
Palin's remarks follow those of several far-right Republican politicians who have also demanded Obama's exit, including Senator James Inhofe, who last year suggested Obama could be impeached for an alleged White House cover-up after the 2012 attack in Benghazi, Libya that killed four Americans.
Congressman Jason Chaffetz also called Obama's handling of Benghazi an "impeachable offence".
While Palin's influence has waned, she remains a national figure popular with the "tea party" movement and can rally donors and supporters to her causes.
But the move could backfire if taken up by more Republicans before November's congressional elections, as Democrats could paint Republicans as being controlled by the extreme wing of their party.