Home Affairs tells asylum seekers to leave

Refugees and asylum seekers have been sent misleading letters telling them to leave Australia under a major administrative bungle.

The letters were sent by a senior official at the Department of Home Affairs and purported to be on behalf of minister Clare O'Neil.

"Settlement in Australia is not an option for you," the letters said.

"The Australian government is strong against people smuggling and irregular maritime ventures.

"It will not allow any person who entered Australia by boat without a valid visa and is subject to regional processing to settle in Australia."

The letters were first reported by the ABC. The Home Affairs Minister has said the letters were not sent with her authority, a claim disputed by the department.

Opposition home affairs spokesperson Karen Andrews said it was "very unusual" to see the department publicly contradict its minister.

"They would generally go about the work they are tasked to do by the minister, so if the minister is saying she had effectively no knowledge of this letter, then it goes to the question of does she understand the work of her department?" she told the ABC.

"Does she understand the work they are undertaking, and what directions is she able to give to her department?"

NSW Labor senator Tim Ayres fired back at Ms Andrews.

"The first thing that fallen minister Andrews should do, every interview she does, is apologise for the utter mess that the Morrison government left the visa system in," he told the ABC.

"The minister pointed out this morning she expected better from the department in terms of the tone and respect that was shown to the recipients of the letters in that correspondence, and it's important that ministers play that cultural leadership role."

Senator Ayres denied asking the department to soften the tone of the letters would lead to a softening of its border policy.

"The minister has pointed out she's not happy with the tone of that letter,'' he said.

"What's unfurled over the rest of the day amongst the Liberals on this issue is the greatest game of insider baseball that anybody will ever see."

Hannah Dickinson, from the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, said it was unclear why the department sent the correspondence.

Ms Dickinson said the letters caused distress to people already living in limbo.

"We hope it was a mistake on the part of the department, and that communication like this won't happen again as there are severe consequences for the community," she said.

Some of the letters were personally addressed to individuals, while others received a greeting: "Dear << INSERT NAME >>".

The asylum seekers were transferred to Australia for medical treatment after they were detained in regional processing centres in the Pacific.

Ms Dickinson said people had the right to be communicated with in a clear and humane way, which the department had failed to do.