CHURCH groups have condemned a Federal Government ultimatum to thousands of asylum seekers to lodge their claims to stay in Australia within four months, or have their welfare axed and face deportation.
“This latest announcement is cruel, morally reprehensible and a fundamental repudiation of the Government’s moral and legal obligations to those seeking asylum in Australia,” the St Vincent de Paul Society’s National Council chief executive officer Dr John Falzon (pictured) said.
Immigration Minister Peter Dutton issued the ultimatum to about 7500 asylum seekers who have been living in Australia for as long as five years without progressing their claims for refugee status.
Mr Dutton claimed there were thousands of “fake refugees” refusing to provide details about their claim for protection – costing Australian taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars a year.
Australian Churches Refugee Taskforce deputy chair Churches of Christ Reverend Mark Riessen described Mr Dutton’s move as “punitive”.
“The Christian faith calls us to work towards freedom for the captive and advocate for those treated unfairly, not to demonise them and shame them,” Rev Riessen said.
“At the core of this process we ask for a reinstatement of hope, and that there will be fairness and justice in this process.”
Dr Falzon said the October 1 deadline to apply for protection, which involved submitting a 60-page document in English and can take up to 10 hours to complete with legal assistance, would in most cases, deny asylum seekers access to a fair process.
“Many of these asylum seekers were not invited to apply for a protection visa until relatively recently,” he said.
“At the same time, the Government has cut funding to legal assistance and interpreting services, forcing people to navigate complex legal processes on their own.
“People who seek asylum have a legal right to have their claims properly processed and in a safe and timely way.”
“We urge the Government to instead provide asylum seekers with the legal support they need, to enable their claims to be assessed in a fair manner,” Dr Falzon said.
The society is concerned the Federal Government’s latest announcement will only result in a rush of people submitting incomplete forms, leaving them vulnerable to being sent back to danger.