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“The Department of Immigration has confirmed there will be a two-tier system operating among asylum-seekers living in Aussies communities: those with work rights, and those without… Bridging visas will be issued to refugees who have been processed onshore, as part of the “no advantage” principle…

Immigration minister Chris Bowen said the sharp increase in asylum seeker arrivals meant it would not be possible to process everyone offshore.

Refugees on the visas will not be allowed to work until they have waited as long as they would have had they been processed on Nauru or Manus Island.

They will be able to access limited welfare benefits from Centrelink.

Mr Bowen said refugees processed onshore could still be moved to detention on Nauru or Manus Island at a later date.

Greg Barnes, from the Australian Lawyers’ Alliance, says the government has abandoned its obligations under the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees.

“To tell that person they are not entitled to a protection visa, is effectively ripping up the rule book and the rule of law for political purposes,” he told SBS.

“In this sense the law has always said, consistent with Australia’s international obligations, that once a person is deemed to be a refugee, for the purposes of the Migration Act and the Migration Convention, they are then entitled to a protection visa.”

Professor Susan Kneebone from Monash University is an expert in international refugee law. She says the government is ignoring Article 17 of the Refugee Convention, which specifically obliges States to provide refugees the right to engage in wage-earning employment. “Article 17 of the Refugee Convention talks about giving refugees access to employment, so it’s directly in contradiction to our obligations under the Refugee Convention,” she told SBS. “But it’s not just that, it’s the fact that their lives are going to be left in limbo. “Being unemployed is all about their dignity, their right to a meaningful existence as well as the right to earn a living.”

Chief Executive the Spectrum Migrant Resource Centre in Melbourne Rosemary Kelada says refugees and asylum seekers don’t want to be on welfare. “The communities when they arrive here, they don’t want to be reliant on Centrelink benefits. If they are able to find work themselves, that’s the best outcome for them, it is the best outcome for the Australian community.” Rosemary Kelada says beyond the obvious problems of poverty and housing, refugees who are unable to work are going to be a burden on the health system. “Because the people are on very, very limited income, they will not be eating properly. Nutritional intake will not be very good, it will cause health problems,” she told SBS. “And that’s not including all the psychological problems and mental health issues that occur as a result of not having an affordable income to be able to live on.”..

Professor Kneebone says in Europe, refugees deprived of their basic human rights would be able to appeal to the regional human rights court – the European Court of Human Rights. But Australia has no such court. Professor Kneebone says it’s possible depriving asylum-seekers of the right to work may revive calls for an Australian Bill of Rights or stronger Human Rights legislation. She says as a lawyer, it’s frustrating that there are few clear avenues to legally appeal the government’s new policy. “It is extremely frustrating. People do take cases to the Human Rights Committee from time to time and Australia is often held to be in breach of its international law obligations – but then nothing happens… “