By Mitchell Dunk.
Edited for online by Matthew Gharakhanian.
Opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison says asylum seeker families may be worse-off under new changes announced by the Federal Government.
Immigration Minister Brendan O’Connor has announced plans for refugee families to be released with minimal financial support and zero work rights.
The Government will introduce temporary bridging visas to curb rising costs of detention centres.
Mr Morrison says more than 20,000 asylum seekers, including 3,000 children, have arrived in Australia by boat this financial year.
He says due to failed border protection policies, the Government has been forced to release families into the community.
The Government says the temporary visas will allow families with children under the age of 16 to live outside of detention.
However, the move is drawing criticism for its absence of work rights and financial support.
The Government’s announcement comes in the lead-up to the federal budget.
Andrew Williams from the Refugee Council of Australia says the financial stress on the Government due to increased asylum seeker arrivals is responsible for the decision.
“I guess we don’t know what the Government’s thinking in terms of budget, but obviously there are increasing numbers of people arriving by boat to seek asylum and that creates pressure on the detention,” Mr Williams says.
Mr Williams says it is a potentially dire situation for refugees.
“There’s a real concern with increasing numbers and people being denied that access to work that they’ll be in a real poverty trap,” Mr Williams says.
He says the right to work provides refugees with a way to survive and enables them to give back to the community.
“People should be able to be in the community, have those work rights, have their opportunity to make their contribution, and repay Australia for showing the faith to look at their claim for refugee protection,” he says.
Mr O’Connor says keeping people in detention is more expensive than releasing them into the community and also says detention can take a toll on people’s mental health.
But University of Canberra psychology professor Amanda Gordon disagrees community living is a better alternative.
“It’s a ridiculous circumstance to place people into the community and say you can live on well below what we expect anyone else in the world to be able to live on,” she says.
“These are incredibly bad options.”
She says for those who have already been held in detention, community release will not help existing psychological issues.
“For people who have been in immigration detention for a significant period of time, mere release into the community without psychological supports is unlikely to mend the damage that has been done,” she says.
Over 10,000 asylum seekers are currently living on bridging visas while their claims are assessed.
Virginia Walker, co-founder of Bridge for Asylum Seekers, says it is an amount that is impossible to live on.
“What are they going to live on?” Ms Walker says.
“Because we really struggle to help the people that we’ve already got on our books who’ve come in on passports and visas and who may have been in the community for a number of weeks before they’ve applied for asylum.”
More information on bridging visas is available on the Department of Immigration and Citizenship website.