Dutton's deadline leaves asylum seekers with "impossible choice"

Asylum seekers living in the community for years have been told they would have only four months to lodge complicated applications or face a loss of government payments or deportation.

On Sunday, Peter Dutton made a case against what he called “fake refugees.” He gave the roughly 7,500 asylum seekers in Australia who had not yet lodged claims until October 1 to do so or face the removal of government welfare and the prospect of deportation.

"We will provide Medicare support, we will give people work rights and we will give people support if they have children of school age to pay for those education costs,” Dutton said.

“But we are not going to provide taxpayer assistance beyond that and the expectation is if people can't make their claim for protection then they need to depart our country as quickly as possible."

These measures target asylum seekers who arrived by boat between August 2012 and December 2013 and have been living on various bridging visas since—refered to as the 'legacy caseload.' 

Dutton claimed these people had been in the country for years without lodging applications, though the minister himself had only lifted his bar on applications for some as late as December.

Refugee lawyers and advocates condemned the surprise move, suggesting the October deadline was arbitrary and unfair.

Australian Lawyers for Human Rights Refugee Rights Subcommittee Co-Chair Khanh Hoang said that “given the deadline, asylum seekers face an impossible choice. They must either submit an application — without legal assistance — before the deadline or risk destitution and/or deportation.”

“Without legal assistance, applications lodged are likely to be inaccurate and incomplete, meaning that people may incorrectly be refused a visa and sent back to a place where they would face persecution.”

The application process is notoriously arduous, especially for those whose first language may not be English.

Shen Narayanasamy, human rights director at GetUp, said "asylum claims are incredibly long, torturous documents."

"And what Peter Dutton has failed to tell you is that he has denied them interpreters and access to legal assistance."

Shadow Immigration Minister Shayne Neumann supported the move to encourage asylum seekers to lodge their applications but were not impressed by Dutton’s use of the term “fake refugees.”

Image: Wikimedia Commons. Immigration Minister Peter Dutton.

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