PM signs deal to expand Manus, resettle asylum seekers in PNG
Australia’s irregular maritime arrivals
- 2010: 134 boats carrying 6535 passengers
- 2011: 69 boats, carrying 4565 passengers
- 2012: 278 boats carrying 17,202 passengers
- 2013 (figures up to 16 July): 218 boats carrying 15,182 passengers
Figures from Australia's Department of Immigration; passenger numbers exclude crew
- Asylum seekers who arrive by boat will never be settled in Australia
- They 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
Mr Rudd and Mr O’Neill announcing that the message was “loud and clear”
PRIME Minister Peter O’Neill has signed a deal with his Australian counterpart Kevin Rudd effectively turning Papua New Guinea into a dumping ground for Australia-bound asylum-seekers going there by boat.
Mr O’Neill flew to Brisbane on Friday after earlier advising his Cabinet of the new deal which Rudd had apparently hatched to appease his Labor right wing ahead of a general election he is expected to announce shortly.
Mr Rudd, flanked by Mr O’Neill announced the new asylum policy – called Regional Settlement Arrangement – which will see the Manus detention centre substantially expanded to cater for 3000 asylum seekers, effective immediately.
Under the agreement, new arrivals will be sent to PNG – which is a signatory to the United Nations Refugees Convention – for assessment and settled there if found to be a refugee.
No cap had been placed on the number of people Australia could send to PNG, Mr Rudd said.
“The new arrangements will allow Australia to help more people who are genuinely in need and help prevent people smugglers from abusing our system,” he said.
Mr O’Neill said PNG was cooperating with Australia to solve a regional problem.
In return, Australia is to channel aid to PNG, including to a major regional hospital and the university sector, The Australian reported. No costs were disclosed in connection with the deal.
Australia has seen a sharp rise in the number of asylum-seekers arriving by boat in recent months.
Following the Rudd-O’Neill announcement, rioting reportedly broke out at the second Australian-run asylum centre in Nauru. It was unclear if there was a link.
“Police have been called in to help with a major disturbance at the asylum seeker detention centre on Nauru,” the Australian Broadcasting Corporation reported.
The cause of the disturbance, involving 150 detainees, had not been established, ABC added.
Mr Rudd had said the “hard-line decision” was taken to ensure border security. It was also aimed at dissuading people from making the dangerous journey to Australia by boat.
“Our country has had enough of people-smugglers exploiting asylum-seekers and seeing them drown on the high seas,” he said.
“From now on, any asylum-seeker who arrives in Australia by boat will have no chance of being settled in Australia as a refugee,” Mr Rudd said.
The rules would apply to all those arriving in Australia by boat from today, Immigration Minister Tony Burke said.
Boat arrivals have soared in the past 18 months, with most asylum seekers coming from Iraq, Iran, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan and Bangladesh. They make their way to Indonesia and from there head to Christmas Island, the closest part of Australian territory to Java.
They travel in boats that are often over-crowded and poorly-maintained. Several have sunk in recent months, killing passengers.
Last year, the Australian government reintroduced a controversial policy under which people arriving by boat in Australia are sent to camps in Nauru and Papua New Guinea for processing.
But the policy has so far failed to deter boat people, who are arriving in increasing numbers. It has also been strongly criticised – most recently by the UNHCR – for the conditions which asylum-seekers face at the camps.
Late on Thursday, Indonesia said it had agreed to stop giving Iranians visas on arrival as part of the measures to ease the problem.
Asylum has become a key election issue in Australia and polls must be called before the end of November.
Opposition leader Tony Abbott – whose party looked on course to trounce Labor at the polls before the leadership change three weeks ago – has said he will turn boats back to Indonesia when safe to do so.
Responding to this agreement he said: “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.”
Human rights advocate David Manne, meanwhile, said Australia had signed up to international conventions to protect “people who come to its shores, not exposing them to further risks elsewhere”.
“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,” ABC quoted him as saying.
Rights group Amnesty International’s regional refugee co-ordinator Graeme McGregor said the move would be marked “as the day Australia decided to turn its back on the world's most vulnerable people, closed the door and threw away the key”. – Agencies