Dutton moves to starve out refugees

Australia’s minister for immigration and border protection, Peter Dutton, continues to ramp up the inhumane treatment of refugees housed in offshore concentration camps.

As if the constant reports of abuse, self-harm and deaths are not evidence enough that the system is cruel, refugees on Manus Island have had to suffer cuts to power and water for the past month in an attempt to force them to move to another facility, and a deaf ear has been turned to three pregnant women on Nauru needing medical transfer to Australia.

Now, leaked documents obtained by Fairfax media show that, from 28 August, the government will cut income and housing support for up to 100 refugees, possibly including a pregnant woman, who have been living in Australia receiving medical treatment. The refugees reportedly are to be issued a “final departure bridging E visa”, which means they will have their $200 a fortnight income cut and be booted out of their government-run community detention accommodation.

The refugees will be given just three weeks to get a job and find somewhere to live. The Brisbane Times quotes from a letter to be sent to the refugees, which states, “You will be expected to support yourself in the community until departing Australia”. The situation of the refugees is further compounded by the insecurity of not knowing when they’ll be forcibly deported. If they can’t find accommodation or a job, their only options will be deportation back to the camps on Manus Island or Nauru or to the country they have fled.

But their chances of finding work are low because the government has refused to grant those in community detention the right to work. And refugees over 18 have been denied opportunities to study or access training programs. Many of the refugees targeted by these measures have ongoing health issues which, combined with the uncertainty of their visa status, present significant barriers to employment.

As Daniel Webb, a solicitor at the Human Rights Law Centre, argues in the Brisbane Times, “It’s hard enough for people in full employment with good wages to find a rental on three weeks’ notice, let alone people our government has imprisoned for years on remote islands and banned from working or training”.

That children and families are not expected to be included in the first round of the new visas is not a sign of the government’s compassion. It will be only a matter of time before they are left homeless and penniless.