Refugee lawyers are furious over what they are calling a breach of faith from the Turnbull government in its new deadline for boat arrivals to lodge their asylum claims.
Immigration Minister Peter Dutton on Sunday announced a "non-negotiable" October 1 deadline for about 7500 asylum seekers to submit their claims for protection, or face deportation.
In what he described as a crackdown on "fake refugees" and con-artists, Mr Dutton accused asylum seekers of failing or refusing to engage in the asylum process and instead "taking the system for a ride".
But refugee lawyers argued the looming deadline was arbitrary and unfair, and would lead to thousands of rushed applications that were doomed to fail or likely to end up in the courts.
"He wants them to fail," said Kon Karapanagiotidis???, chief executive of the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre. "He's politicking with the lives of 7500 people, punishing them for a morally bankrupt system he was the architect of."
Mr Dutton said some of the targeted cohort had been in Australia for five years without lodging their asylum claims. But many were barred from lodging claims until as recently as December, and were also denied work rights.
Lawyers say most of the 7500 people are known to the major community legal centres and are being helped to prepare their paperwork. But the documents are numerous, complex and difficult, especially for non-English speakers.
"They want to apply but the system is so complex they need assistance to do so," said David Manne, executive director of Refugee Legal.
"These people deserve a fair go before the law, not an arbitrary deadline which if missed could seem them sent back to places of danger like Afghanistan, Iraq or Syria. The slip of the pen could be tantamount to a death sentence."
Those who fail to make an application by October 1 would be considered to have forfeited their claim to protection, Mr Dutton said on Sunday. They will be placed on a short-term visa that provides work rights, Medicare and school education until deportation is arranged.
The 7500 people belong to a cohort of close to 30,000 asylum seekers who arrived by boat during the Labor years, referred to now as the "legacy caseload".
About 70 per cent of those processed were found to be refugees owed protection. But advocates fear rushed, incomplete applications will fail undeservedly or end up in a lengthy, expensive appeals process.
The crackdown has loomed since late last year when asylum seekers began to receive letters from the Department of Immigration and Border Protection giving them 14, 30 or 60 days to apply for asylum.
Legal centres have been in overdrive trying to speed up the claims. "We're going to do everything humanly possible to scale up our emergency help to meet the need," Mr Manne said.
Advocates said they had previously understood there would be no hard deadline and Sunday's announcement came without warning.
Mr Dutton said the group of asylum seekers yet to lodge their claim cost taxpayers $250 million in income support last financial year, while the total welfare bill for "illegal" boat arrivals was $1.9 billion.
"If people think that they can rip the Australian taxpayer off, if people think they can con the Australian taxpayer, then I'm sorry - the game's up," he said.
Shadow immigration spokesman Shayne Neumann took issue with Mr Dutton's use of the term "fake refugees", but said Labor would consider its position on the announcement and encouraged asylum seekers to lodge their applications "as soon as possible".
Ali*, a 23-year-old refugee working in Canberra who completed his claim with legal assistance, said the process was difficult and lengthy.
"You have to be very careful," he told Fairfax Media. "The sentences and the questions that are asked on that form, it's not easy language, even if you speak English.
"You can't really do it by yourself, you really need to see an immigration lawyer. The time fame that Peter Dutton is now saying is just horrible."
* Name has been changed