Australia’s immigration minister brought border security and immigration to the centre of the 2016 election campaign warning that resettling “illiterate and innumerate” refugees would strain the social safety network and take Australian jobs.
Border security and immigration are “hot-button” political issues in Australia which have swayed elections and resulted in a bipartisan policy which sees asylum seekers arriving by boat sent to Pacific detention camps and ineligible for resettlement.
The number of refugees attempting to reach Australia pales in comparison to those flooding into Europe from the Middle East and the United Nations has criticised its detention camps.
The government last year pledged to take 12,000 refugees from Syria on top of its 13,750 annual quota. The centre-left opposition Labor Party says that it will double the annual quota to 27,000 by 2025 if it wins elections on July 2.
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“They won’t be numerate or literate in their own language, let alone English. These people would be taking Australian jobs, there’s no question about that,” Immigration Minister Peter Dutton told Sky News when asked about the proposed increase in the humanitarian intake quota.
“For many of them that would be unemployed, they would languish in unemployment queues … and the rest of it so there would be huge cost and there’s no sense in sugar-coating that, that’s the scenario,” Dutton said in an interview with Sky News late on Tuesday.
Labor says it will continue the government’s immigration policy, but Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is seeking to portray Labor as weak on border security.
Dutton on Saturday defended the government’s offshore detention policy after two asylum-seeker deaths, weeks of protests and several medical evacuations from a camp on Nauru, which have become a headache for Turnbull. In the past month two asylum seekers detained on Nauru have set themselves on fire and one of them, an Iranian, died.
Papua New Guinea has said it plans to close the Manus Island detention centre after its Supreme Court ruled it unlawful, raising questions about where the refugees would be resettled.