Australia has begun to release asylum seekers who came to the country seeking political refuge. While immigration authorities take time to assess their refugee claims, 100 people will be released per month into Australian communities on temporary, bridging visas which allow them to find housing and work. Refugees who are thought to pose any type of risk to communities will remain in detention centres.

Under existing policy, asylum seekers can be held indefinitely in detention centres while their paperwork is processed. An estimated 3,800 asylum-seekers are currently held in those facilities.

The issue of how to handle Australia’s so-called “boat people” has long divided public opinion in the country. While some say security measures are necessary to protect the country’s borders, others say the policies are racist and target the most disadvantaged refugees, many of whom are from Afghanistan or Sri Lanka.

Politicians disagree on whether such asylum seekers should be processed offshore on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea or on Australian shores.

Earlier this year, Australia and Malaysia had mutually agreed to a refugee-swap deal that would send 800 asylum-seekers from Australia to Malaysia in exchange for the resettlement of 4,000 Malaysians in Australia over the next five years.

The deal then fell through when human rights activists and lawyers protested, noting that Malaysia is not a signatory to either the UN Refugee Convention or the UN Convention Against Torture. Those who opposed the deal said sending refugees from Australia to Malaysia could endanger asylum-seekers, and women and children would have been at risk for deportation.

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