Australia will free thousands of would-be refugees from detention centers and allow them to live in the country for at least three years.
The move is part of a controversial temporary visa policy being reintroduced by the government, Reuters reported Friday.
However, the refugees can still be deported after three years.
Thousands of people seeking refuge reached Australia by boat before the previous government instituted a hard-line policy to send asylum seekers to third-party countries for processing and made them ineligible to settle in Australia.
That backlog, which includes hundreds of children, will now be able to leave detention centres in Australia and live for three years in the community where they will have work rights and may eventually apply for skilled or other migrant visas.
If they don’t get a permanent visa, they can be sent back to their country of origin.
The revised bill narrowly passed the upper house Senate early on Friday after a lengthy debate.
Mining magnate Clive Palmer, whose party supported the bill after negotiating several changes, called the system the best option available.
“It’s all very well for people to shake their head, but they’re not locked up on Christmas Island, they’re not behind bars, their children are not missing out on a decent Christmas dinner,” he told reporters, referring to a detention centre on a remote Australian territory in the Indian Ocean.
The temporary visas, introduced under former prime minister John Howard, have been criticised by rights groups and the United Nations for failing to meet Australia’s obligations as a signatory to the United Nations Refugee Conventions.
Critics say the three-year visas do not provide for the possibility of permanent protection.
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