The Australian government has slashed the number of places set aside for refugees meaning that hundreds of asylum seekers awaiting approval on their applications will no longer be eligible to settle in the country.
Immigration minister Scott Morrison announced the reduction in the number of refugee places from 600 to 45 per year.
Refugees who registered with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) on or after 1 July 2014 will no longer be eligible for resettlement in Australia.
The decision affects asylum seekers currently living in Australia as well as those held in detention centres in Indonesia and elsewhere.
Those claimants will now have to seek settlement in another country.
Indonesia, which may now have to process hundreds of claims itself, has reportedly been notified of the Australian government’s decision.
Morrison said: “These changes should reduce the movement of asylum seekers to Indonesia and encourage them to seek resettlement in or from countries of first asylum.”
Paul Power, chief executive of the Refugee Council of Australia, criticized the move and said it sent a clear signal that Australia did not care.
“It’s an outrageous move from the Australian government, it will damage Australia’s relationship with Indonesia,” he said.
“Not only has Australia been sending asylum seekers back to Indonesia in situations where the Indonesian government doesn’t have the resources to keep asylum seekers, but now we’re making the situation much worse by refusing to help our neighbours.”
Campaigners say the move will leave hundreds of people in limbo and in a vulnerable situation, particularly as those refugees held in Indonesia often live in appalling conditions, don’t have the right to work nor access to services such as healthcare and education.