Asylum seekers who arrived in Australia by boat are now being moved into the community on bridging visas.
Immigration Minister Chris Bowen says he has approved bridging visas for 27 single men, mostly Afghans and Sri Lankans, who have been in detention for long periods.
The government has begun issuing the bridging visas for eligible boat people to relieve pressure on its detention centre network after the failure of Labor’s Malaysian people-swap deal.
The High Court ruled the deal unlawful in August and the government’s attempts to resurrect it through legislative changes have so far failed.
“The Malaysia arrangement presented a genuinely innovative regional and humanitarian response to the people-smuggling problem,” Mr Bowen said in a statement on Friday.
“But the High Court’s decision and (Opposition Leader) Tony Abbott putting his political interests ahead of the national interest prevent the government from pursuing this option.”
The 27 men have gone through identity, security and behaviour checks and will live in the community while their asylum claims are completed.
Asylum seekers on bridging visas will have the right to work and access health services.
Some will also be eligible for support services, to be determined on a case-by-case basis.
They will have reporting conditions, and breaches could result in visa cancellations and a return to detention.
Mr Bowen said his department was identifying and processing more suitable people for release.
“We would expect to see at least 100 IMAs (irregular maritime arrivals) eventually being released every month,” he said.
Next year the government would begin processing boat arrivals the same way it processed asylum seekers who arrived in Australia by plane, Mr Bowen said.
“With the legislative impasse and the resulting move toward greater community placement, there is no longer any benefit to parallel processing arrangements for offshore entry persons,” he said.
“It is only prudent to introduce a single, consistent and efficient process that will continue to afford all people using the system access to judicial review.”
Mr Bowen said the government was forced to process asylum seekers onshore because of the opposition’s reckless approach in opposing offshore processing laws.
“An initial group of 27 people has been approved for bridging visas and they’ve been released from detention today,” Mr Bowen told reporters in Sydney on Friday.
“This is the first batch of bridging visas, we estimate that at least 100 bridging visas will be issued this month.”
The group, released from detention centres all over the country, will be accommodated with family or friends.
Although they will have the right to work, they will have no access to Centrelink benefits.
Mr Bowen said the government might consider putting the Migration Act amendments to a lower house vote now it has an increased majority because of the defection of Liberal MP Peter Slipper to become Speaker.
However, the easiest way to have the law pass was for Opposition Leader Tony Abbott to supported offshore processing, he said.
“Until Mr Abbott acknowledges that his obstructionism, his negativity, his addiction to saying no means that we can’t have offshore processing.”
There are about 3800 asylum seekers in detention centres and 1300 living in the community.