Asylum seekers arriving in Australia by boat to be resettled in Papua New Guinea
Friday, July 19, 2013
Prime Minister Kevin Rudd says asylum seekers who arrive by boat will have no chance of being settled in Australia as refugees.
Mr Rudd has confirmed a deal that will see asylum seekers sent to Papua New Guinea for assessment, and if they are found to be refugees, they will be resettled there.
PNG's prime minister Peter O'Neill joined Mr Rudd in formally unveiling the plan in Brisbane this afternoon.
Mr Rudd says those found not to be refugees will be sent back to their own nations or a third country.
He says the deal with PNG is aimed at stopping "the scourge of people smuggling".
"I understand this is a very hard-line decision. I understand the different groups in Australia and around the world will see this decision in different ways," he said.
"But our responsibility as a government is to ensure we have a robust system of border security and orderly migration on the one hand, as well as fulfilling our legal and compassionate obligations under the Refugees' Convention on the other."
Mr O'Neill says he believes strongly that genuine refugees can be resettled in his nation.
Asylum seekers will never be settled in Australia
All asylum seekers will be sent to Manus Island or elsewhere in PNG for assessment
Genuine refugees will be resettled in PNG
The agreement will be in place for at least the next 12 months
There will be no cap on the number of refugees to be settled in PNG
The regional settlement arrangement will be effective for 12 months and there will be no cap on the number of people who can be transferred there.
Mr Rudd says the new arrangement delivers a message loud and clear to people smugglers that "their business model is now basically undermined".
The package includes a significant expansion of the Manus Island detention centre to house 3,000 people up from the original capacity of 600.
Currently, about 145 people are housed on the island.
A recent United Nations report was highly critical of conditions for asylum seekers on Manus Island, but the PNG government says construction will start on a new permanent centre shortly and it will be an improvement.
Mr Rudd says the implementation of the plan "won't be inexpensive" and is a "huge burden to budget".
But he says the plan is necessary because the number of asylum seekers coming by boat will continue to increase and because each vessel is at continued risk of drowning.
Mr Rudd says this is a clear change in strategic direction and will receive criticism from all quarters.
Mr O'Neill told the media the new settlement arrangement will help deal with the ongoing challenge of maintaining the borders of countries in the region.
Mr Rudd has been under growing pressure to deal with the dramatic increase in asylum seekers attempting to enter Australia by boat.
'This is a day of shame,' says Milne
Greens leader Christine Milne says Mr Rudd has "leapfrogged Tony Abbott on cruelty".
"Our obligations are to take seriously people's application for asylum in our country," she said.
"This is really an appalling performance from our for the nation and it really does say to the rest of the world that Australia is a very rich country which is prepared to pass the buck to a very poor country because a Prime Minister doesn't have the courage or the moral authority to do the right thing by refugees.
"This is a day of shame."
Opposition Leader Tony Abbott says the new policy will never work with Mr Rudd in charge.
"I welcome it, but it won't work under Mr Rudd. I do welcome the generous response of PNG to Australia's difficulties here," he said.
"Let's face it, this is Labor's fifth go at getting it right and while this certainly is a very promising development in offshore processing, it is about processing boat people, it's not about stopping the boats and that in the end is what we have to have.
"I think the question that the Australian people have to ask is, who do you trust on this subject? Who do you trust to stop the boats? Do you trust the political party which started them up again?
"Or you trust the party that is the original and the best when it comes to actually stopping the boats?"
Human rights advocate David Manne says he is surprised by Mr Rudd's hardline stance.
"I am surprised on a number of fronts, first and foremost because Australia, having signed up to the Refugees' Convention in 1954 committed to protecting people who come to its shores, not exposing them to further risks elsewhere," he said.
"I'm also particularly concerned because in the context of the global challenges, the fact remains that Australia hosts only 0.3 per cent of refugees worldwide and yet, what we see here is a policy designed not only to deter asylum seekers from coming and seeking refuge in Australia, but one that also proposes to shift our responsibilities on to others, to not shoulder the responsibility of protecting refugees but to shift it and to deflect it on to others.
"In this case, a country that is far less well equipped to respond and accommodate to the needs of refugees."
Indonesia to toughen laws on visas for Iranians
Figures from the Department of Immigration show 15,610 people on 220 boats have arrived in Australian waters so far this year.
Iranians make up a third of the total making the journey, many others are Afghan or Sri Lankan.
Indonesia has also agreed to a request from Mr Rudd to make it harder for people from Iran to enter the country in order to travel to Australia by boat.
Indonesian justice minister Amir Syamsuddin has signed a letter - in effect a ministerial decree - that will stop Iranians being able to obtain a visa on arrival when they fly to Indonesia.
The move could slow the flow of people on their way to seeking asylum in Australia.
ABC's AM program understands officials from the Department of Immigration have been in Tehran negotiating for the Government there to take back asylum seekers.
Currently Iran does not accept involuntary returns.
Mr Rudd raised concerns about the arrangement for visas on arrival in Indonesia during talks with president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.
The Government has said that many asylum seekers arriving in Australia from Iran are economic migrants, not genuine refugees.