Immigration Minister Minister Peter Dutton has laid into refugees heading to the U.S. from Australian-run processing centres on Manus Island, criticising them over their choice of clothing and accusing them of taking taxpayers "for a ride".
In an extraordinary attack on departing refugees from Manus Island, Dutton told 2GB the group of men who've spent years subjected to punishing border protection policies and abject conditions were economic refugees who had taken advantage of Australia's "generosity".
He made the comments while discussing a photo of the men, wearing sunglasses, departing Manus island after host Ray Hadley suggested they looked they were in a Paris or New York fashion show.
Sydney's Daily Telegraph newspaper described the trip as "Manus To Manhattan".
"Somebody once said to me that we've got the world's biggest collection of Armani jeans and handbags up on Nauru waiting for people to collect it when they depart," Dutton said.
"The reality is that these people have at the generosity of the Australian taxpayer received an enormous amount of support for a long period of time.
"We didn't ask people to hop on the boats, and we're getting them out including through this U.S. deal, but 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 that this is a terrible existence."
He also predicted that once off Manus Island and Nauru "they'll start to tell a very different story about how it wasn't that bad".
On Tuesday 22 men on Manus Island became the first refugees to leave Papua New Guinea for the U.S., after a deal struck between former President Barrack Obama and Malcolm Turnbull.
What Dutton describes as "generosity" the United Nations has described repeatedly as "torture", "immensely harmful" and "alarming. In the nearly four years since the Manus detention centre re-opened, five asylum seekers have died.
Just last month Victoria's Supreme Court approved a $70 million compensation deal from the Australian Government to detainees on Manus Island in what's believed to be the largest human rights settlement in the country's legal history.
The United Nations has for years savaged Australia's policies on asylum seekers and refugees, even accusing the government of breaching "common decency."
The dead men of Manus Island:
- Hamed Shamshiripour, 31 -- Hamed was found dead in the forest near the Australian-run East Lorengau refugee transit centre on Manus Island;
- Faysal Ishak Ahmed, 27 -- died in Brisbane hospital after being flown from Manus Island following a fall and a seizure within the centre, resulting in head injuries;
- Kamil Hussain, 34 -- Drowned whilst swimming at a waterfall on Manus Island during a day trip;
- Hamid Kehazaei, 24 -- Died in Brisbane after developing septicaemia from a cut on his foot on Manus;
- Reza Barati, 24 -- Barati died of head injuries on the way to hospital in PNG, after protests at the Detention Centre. 77 others were injured, 12 seriously.
In January this year the UN team in Papua New Guinea voiced grave concerns about reports of asylum seekers on Manus Island being beaten by police and locals.
Listing worries about isolation, overcrowding, sexual abuse, suicide and self-harm, the U.N. Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in its 'Concluding observations on the fifth periodic report of Australia', savaged asylum policy.
"The Committee also remains concerned at the State party's policy of transferring asylum seekers to the regional processing centres for the processing of their claims, despite public reports on the harsh conditions prevailing in those centres, including for children," the report said.
Perhaps the most damning criticism of Australia's asylum policies came in a report from the UN's Special Rapporteur on torture, Juan E. Méndez, who said in 2015 that federal policies essentially breached conventions around torture and punishment.