A couple from Punjab have won the right to stay in Australia for now, arguing that they may be killed in India for their inter-caste marriage.

Their plea for refugee status was earlier rejected by immigration authorities and a review tribunal, but a court in Canberra has ruled in their favour.

The pair, a Sikh and a member of a Hindu backward caste, married secretly in India in 2007, despite his parents’ refusal to accept the relationship on religious and caste grounds. Initially, they did not inform their families of the marriage, fearing they would be forced to separate or even be killed. They lived separately before leaving for Australia in 2008.

In Australia, the couple were refused a protection visa by the Department of Immigration and Citizenship, The Canberra Times reported.

They appealed to the Refugee Review Tribunal after immigration authorities rejected their request for refugee status. This appeal also failed, though the tribunal admitted that there was a history of honour killings in the Punjab region; instead, it suggested they relocate to a large Indian city such as Mumbai or New Delhi to avoid repercussions.

But the man argued that his family had political and police links that would help in tracking them down.

Then they moved the Federal Circuit Court in Canberra, which ordered the tribunal to review its decision.

In a judgment published this week, Federal Magistrate Warwick Neville found that the tribunal had failed to comply with the Migration Act while deciding on the matter.

But the couple could still be expelled from the country as the authorities appealed against the decision in a higher court this week.