Australia under fire for plans to permanently ban all refugees and asylum seekers being held offshore

Published October 30th, 2016 - 10:00 GMT
This image, taken on August 10, 2016, shows a refugee injured during protests at an Australian detention facility on Manus Island. (AFP/File)
This image, taken on August 10, 2016, shows a refugee injured during protests at an Australian detention facility on Manus Island. (AFP/File)

Australia's government has copped heavy criticism Sunday for seeking to give life bans to all asylum seekers, even genuine refugees, who are currently being held offshore.

Malcolm Turnbull's conservative government said it will propose a bill this week to ammend the Migration Act, banning asylum seekers who arrived in the country's offshore detention centres since mid-July 2013 from ever entering Australia, even on legitimate visas.

"The door to Australia is closed to those who seek to come here by boat with a people smuggler. It is closed," Turnbull told reporters in Sydney on Sunday.

"That absolutely unflinching, unequivocal message has to be loud and clear," he said.

The ban will apply to those currently held in Australia's offshore detention facilities on Papua New Guinea's Manus Island and Nauru, as well as others who have already chosen to return to other countries.

Turnbull said the plan sends "the strongest possible signal to those who are seeking to persuade persons currently on Nauru and in Manus that the Australian government will change its policy and allow them to settle here."

But refugee advocate Daniel Webb of the Human Rights Law Centre said the proposed changes would permanently split families and condemn thousands to limbo.

"I was on Manus recently and met one man, Nayser Ahmed, who arrived here on a different date to his wife and kids. While his family are now rebuilding their lives in Sydney, Nayser has been stuck on Manus for the last three years," said Webb.

"If Turnbull's legal changes go ahead, this man may never see his kids again."

Greg Barns, a spokesperson for Australian Lawyers Alliance, said the "cruel" plan could be declared "unconstitutional" and it is "a further blow" to the country's human rights reputation.

"Nowhere else in the world is the fact that desperate people seeking protection from torture and persecution by boarding a boat, as opposed to a plane, used as a basis to deny them protection," Barns said.

Immigration minister Peter Dutton, speaking alongside Turnbull, said the new laws were partly designed to prevent refugee advocates from marrying asylum seekers and bringing them to Australia on a spouse visa, which he said was "unacceptable."

"We are not going to allow arrangements that would subvert the program and the success we've had," he said.

Prime Minister Turnbull said the move was in line with his party's long-term policy and expects the opposition Labor party to give "unequivocal support."

But Tanya Plibersek, the deputy leader of Labor, said that the government's plans were a distraction from their "hopeless mismanagement" and it was too soon to determine if her party would support the bill.

"It is extraordinary that, three years on, the government has not found third countries to resettle those people who are in limbo on Manus Island and Nauru," she told reporters on the Gold Coast.

Lawmaker Brendan O'Connor, a former immigration minister for Labor, said his party should consider "whether there are unintended consequences of the legislation, whether it's too harsh, whether it's in breach of our own international obligations."

Greens Party immigration spokesman Nick McKim accused the government of punishing asylum seekers.

"The government's policy in so many ways, in terms of its inhumanity, in terms of its illegality, is in absolute disarray," he told reporters in Hobart.

By Subel Bhandari

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