THE Federal Government has been forced to defend its decision to introduce bridging visas for asylum seekers arriving in Australia by boat.
With the regional processing centres on Nauru and Manus Island expected to reach capacity faster than expected, Immigration Minister Chris Bowen announced on Wednesday the Federal Government would begin releasing some asylum seekers into the Australian community using a "no advantage" principle.
This means they will be treated as if their claim for asylum was being processed offshore.
The bridging visas are almost identical to the temporary protection visas implemented by the Howard government.
Mr Bowen rejected the assertion the government was being "cruel" to asylum seekers, telling ABC radio "tough decisions" needed to be made.
"If you argue against the 'no advantage' test and say that people should get a permanent visa when they arrive in Australia, you are saying they should be advantaged over those asylum seekers who don't get on a boat, and that's not something that I think is fair or reasonable," Mr Bowen said.
Australian Human Rights Commission president Gillian Triggs added her voice to the growing list of people lining up to criticise the move.
Prof Triggs said the bridging visas threatened to "compound the suffering of already vulnerable people".
"The announcements today appear to further undermine the protection of the human rights of asylum seekers and refugees," Prof Triggs said.
Prof Triggs was also concerned with Mr Bowen's announcement on Wednesday about the number of asylum seekers who had been involuntarily sent back to their countries.
Meanwhile, another boat was intercepted entering Australian waters on Wednesday.
The vessel, which was carrying 37 people and two crew, was stopped east-south-east of Ashmore Islands yesterday.
About 8000 people have arrived in Australia by boat since the Expert Panel on Asylum Seekers handed down its report in August.
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