Australian Border Force officials are encouraging refugees on Nauru to split with their families as a way of applying for resettlement in the US, prompting an angry response from parliamentarians.
"When it comes to looking after some of the most vulnerable and traumatised people in our society the government doesn't want a bar of international law," Greens leader Richard Di Natale told reporters in Canberra on Wednesday.
Recordings of phone conversations and an email chain, obtained by the Guardian, reveal confirm the ABF is encouraging permanent family separation.
"We're talking about tearing apart families here," Senator Di Natale said.
"These are people who are already traumatised, people who have fled violence and persecution, people who have been locked up indefinitely and now the government wants to kick them while they're down."
Immigration Minister Peter Dutton had shown that there were no depths to which he wouldn't sink, Senator Di Natale said.
One refugee on Nauru, Arash Shirmohamadi, has been told by the ABF he can separate from his wife and relinquish rights to his daughter in order to apply for resettlement.
Alternatively, he could bring his family, held in detention in Brisbane, to Nauru - with no guarantee of being resettled.
A US resettlement deal struck between former president Barack Obama and Malcolm Turnbull provided a possible path out of detention for refugees detained offshore.
The US has reportedly preferred to resettle single people rather than families.
The UN Refugee Agency recognises the integrity of the refugee family is both a legal right and a humanitarian principle.
Labor senator Pat Dodson said Australia had to extend some humanity to refugees on Nauru and Manus Island in Papua New Guinea.
"There's a whole lot in our behaviour on this that's yet to be discovered I think, by the Australian people," he told reporters.
Cabinet minister Matt Canavan declined to comment on the Guardian report, saying it was a matter for Mr Dutton.