Immigration Minister Peter Dutton has been savaged for suggesting the first detainees sent from Australian offshore detention centres on Manus Island and Nauru to the United States are “economic refugees”.
Labor frontbencher Chris Bowen said despite the minister criticising their clothing, the fact the refugees were accepted into the US after extreme vetting under a people-swap deal proved their claims were genuine.
“And yet he chooses to spend his time commenting on their clothes,” Mr Bowen told reporters in Sydney on Friday.
More than 50 refugees this week left offshore detention on Manus Island and Nauru for a new life in the US.
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.
There are a lot of people that haven’t come out of war-ravaged areas, they’re economic refugees, they’ve got on a boat, paid a people smuggler a lot of money,” Mr Dutton told 2GB radio.
“Somebody once said to me that the world’s biggest collection of Armani jeans and handbags is up on Nauru waiting for people to collect when they depart.”
Mr Bowen said the minister should spend less time “being the fashion police” and focus on securing third party resettlement for those still in offshore detention.
“Most of their clothes would have been supplied by the government or by charities over the last few years,” he said.
“But put that aside. How about actually working to get these people resettled in third party countries rather than demonising their choice of clothes.”
Amnesty International has labelled Mr Dutton’s comments extremely irresponsible, warning they could risk the 52 refugees’ chances of safe resettlement.
“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,” refugee co-ordinator Graham Thom said.