Australia’s Immigration Chief Defends Cutting Support for Some Asylum Seekers

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SYDNEY, Australia — Australia’s immigration minister, Peter Dutton, has defended a move to cut off financial and housing support to up to 100 asylum seekers brought from its offshore camps for medical treatment, reigniting debate over the country’s detention policy.

In a radio interview on Monday, Mr. Dutton accused asylum seekers of using medical transfers to manipulate the system and as a way to escape detention on Australia’s offshore camps on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea and on the island nation of Nauru.

“I think people believe in a fair go, but this is ripping the system off,” he said in an interview with the conservative radio host Alan Jones. “We’ve given notice to almost 60 of them to say that the game is up and we aren’t going to provide you with the housing — the welfare will stop,” Mr. Dutton said, referring to asylum seekers.

News of the changes was first reported on Sunday by The Age, which said that under new visa conditions, up to 100 asylum seekers brought to Australia for medical treatment would, as of Monday, no longer receive financial support of about 400 Australian dollars, or about $315, a month. The asylum seekers would also have three weeks to leave government-supported housing and find new places to live.

“You will be expected to support yourself in the community until departing Australia,” said a letter by the Immigration Department that was leaked to The Age.

Mr. Dutton defended the tough new measures during his interview on Monday, saying that asylum seekers who sought legal help to remain in Australia after receiving medical treatment were taking unfair advantage of the system. “The medical assistance has been provided and there is no need for them to remain in Australia and yet, through these legal moves, they’ve found themselves a way,” he said.

Up to 400 asylum seekers and their children living in Australia on medical transfers could be affected under the new visa, according the The Age. Known as the “final departure Bridging E Visa,” it reportedly grants asylum seekers the right to work, which they were barred from doing previously.

A senator with the Australian Greens, Nick McKim, said that his party would be seeking advice on how to reverse the decision in the Senate.

In a statement on Sunday, Mr. McKim said that reversing the decision would hinge on the opposition Labor party, “who have to decide whether they will accept abject cruelty as a policy position.”

The director of legal advocacy with the Human Rights Law Center, Daniel Webb, said the new visa conditions represented a “new low” that would inflict “unimaginable suffering.”

“They’ve been locked up by our government for years on remote islands, and then when they were finally released the government banned them from working, training or even volunteering,” he said. “And now they are suddenly being cut off, kicked out and told to leave the country.”

“The sensible and compassionate thing to do is to let them stay,” he added. “Instead, our Immigration Minister Peter Dutton is trying to force them back to danger by making them destitute.

“We’re talking about women who were sexually assaulted on Nauru,” Mr. Webb said. “Men who were attacked and injured on Manus. Children who were so traumatized by offshore detention that they needed psychiatric care in Australia.”

Last week, The Guardianreported that three pregnant women had been refused medical transfers for abortions, procedures that are illegal in Nauru, a largely conservative Christian country, and that 50 other asylum seekers had been denied medical transfers against doctors’ recommendations.

In 2014, an Iranian asylum seeker detained at Manus Island died after developing severe sepsis from a leg infection. An inquest into his death last year found delays in transporting him to a hospital in Australia for treatment.

Last month, the body of another Iranian asylum seeker, Hamed Shamshiripour, was discovered by children in Papua New Guinea, in what the police believe was a suicide. Mr. Shamshiripour’s friends had repeatedly asked for help for what they said were his worsening depressive episodes.

According to a report released in June by the Australian government, there were 803 people detained at the center on Manus and 371 in Nauru, including 48 women and 42 children.

Also in June, Australia agreed to a landmark $53 million settlement in a class-action lawsuit filed on behalf of current and former detainees on Manus for mental and physical harm sustained while incarcerated.

Asylum seekers have been sent to Manus and Nauru as part of a policy that Australia says is meant to deter human traffickers from sending desperate people to its shores on rickety boats, usually by way of Indonesia.

The main detention center on Manus is slated to close in October, and water and electricity to parts of it have been cut off. The fate of those still housed there, in light of a promised deal to resettle the refugees in the United States, remains unclear.

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