A coalition of refugee advocates, unions and charities have joined forces to resist the Turnbull government’s dramatic crackdown on asylum seekers, vowing they won’t be coerced back to Manus Island and Nauru.
National refugee services, St Vincent de Paul and the Salvation Army were among those in an emergency telephone conference on Monday to plan a response, including aid, accommodation and a public campaign.
The sector was left stunned on Sunday after Fairfax Media revealed plans to strip up to 400 asylum seekers in of welfare payments and accommodation, in a bid to force them back to offshore detention.
The government began shifting the asylum seekers on to six-month “final departure bridging E visas” on Monday, cutting income support of about $200 a fortnight and giving people three weeks to find new homes.
In response, the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre launched a donation drive, pledging to house and look after an estimated 200 people living in Melbourne, which it expects to cost up to $1 million over six months.
“We’re drawing on what little savings we have, and we’re going to rely on the public to rally. We’ll just have to find a way to find the money,” chief executive Kon Karapanagiotidis?????? told Fairfax Media.
“We cannot in good faith allow this government to starve families, babies, children. We’re not letting these people be sent back to danger.”
In Sydney, Settlement Services International was working with other local agencies – including the Refugee Advice and Casework Service – to find emergency accommodation.
Meanwhile, the n Council of Trade Unions backed a relaunched campaign by GetUp! to “let them stay” in , declaring it “stands ready to fight”. The ACTU is understood to be considering financial contributions to the campaign.
Corinne Dobson, director of policy and research at St Vincent de Paul, said the charity would do whatever it could to prevent the “untenable situation” of asylum seekers returning to Nauru or Manus Island.
The 400 asylum seekers were brought to from offshore for medical reasons or because they were caring for sick people, but the government has long insisted they must return to the islands or go home now that assistance has been rendered.
Immigration Minister Peter Dutton on Monday declared “the con is up”, while Treasurer and former immigration minister Scott Morrison said the asylum seekers had “gamed the system to get to “.
Lawyers have so far stopped the government sending people back by force, earning a stunning outburst from Mr Dutton, who agreed with shock-jock Alan Jones’ description of the lawyers as “un-n”.
That drew fierce opprobrium from the legal fraternity. The NSW Bar Association said the comment was regrettable and “inappropriate”, while Law Council of president Fiona McLeod called it a “truly extraordinary” attack.
“There is nothing more n than ensuring people are subject to the rule of law and have their legal rights protected,” she said.
Asylum seekers interviewed by the Immigration Department on Monday, including the victims of sexual assault, were told they could return to the countries from which they fled. According to advocates, the group includes more than 50 babies born in , and 66 children born in other countries.
Hugh de Kretser, executive director of the Human Rights Law Centre, said it was an “absurd and cruel” crackdown designed to sidestep the government’s undertaking not to deport people while legal proceedings are under way.
Labor and the Greens deplored the move and were exploring options to have it blocked by the Parliament. Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said it was “cowardly and cruel to treat these people badly – it is weak”.
Mr Dutton said that would be “glee to the ears of people smugglers, who would be rubbing their hands together”. Allowing the asylum seekers to remain in would enable people smugglers to say “you can go to for medical assistance and then you’ll stay there”, he said.
with Bianca Hall, Richard Baker
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