Immigration Minister Peter Dutton has taken aim at the first group of refugees to leave Australia’s offshore detention centres for resettlement in the United States.
Sydney radio host Ray Hadley put to the minister during a regular interview on Thursday that a photograph of the group published by News Corp this week looked like a fashion show on a catwalk in Paris or New York.
“Somebody once said to me the world’s biggest collection of Armani jeans and handbags was up on Nauru waiting for people to collect it when they depart,” Mr Dutton told 2GB radio.
More than 50 refugees this week left offshore detention on Manus Island and Nauru for a new life in the US.
Mr Dutton, asked about an image of those preparing to depart Port Moresby, said a lot of people who ended up in the island camps had not come from war-ravaged areas but were instead economic refugees.
They’d received “an enormous amount of support” from Australian taxpayers for a long time.
“We have been taken for a ride, I believe, by a lot of the advocates and people within Labor and the Greens who want you to believe this is a terrible existence,” Mr Dutton said.
“These photos demonstrate otherwise. People have seen other photos in recent weeks of those up on Manus out enjoying themselves outside this centre, by the beach and all the rest of it.”
Mr Dutton said he had long predicted once people were off Manus Island and Nauru “they’ll start to tell a very different story about how it wasn’t that bad”.
“There is a very different scenario up on Nauru and Manus than people want you to believe,” he said.
‘Lack of understanding’
Amnesty International labelled the comments extremely irresponsible.
“They also show a complete lack of understanding of the refugee convention,” refugee co-ordinator Graham Thom said in a statement.
He suggested Mr Dutton is putting at risk the opportunity for vulnerable and traumatised refugees to be safely resettled in the US.
“It is absolutely despicable that Peter Dutton would risk that by downplaying the acute vulnerability of these refugees at a time when the US is looking to cut its humanitarian program to its lowest level in over a decade,” he said.
The refugees arrived in Australian waters years ago and were transferred to offshore detention under a strict government policy to block anyone who arrived by boat from entering the country.
They were recently cleared by US authorities for resettlement under a deal struck between the former Obama administration and the Turnbull government.
Up to 1,250 refugees are expected to be resettled in the US.