Australia makes U-turn on sending refugees to Pacific camps
Australia’s prime minister has announced a U-turn in her government’s policy on asylum seekers, saying it will introduce legislation allowing their deportation to the poor Pacific nations of Papua New Guinea and Nauru to face lengthy stays in detention camps.
Julia Gillard’s Labour Party had long argued against the concept of Australian-funded detention camps on the island nations as an expensive waste of money that would fail to deter new arrivals.
But yesterday she said her government has accepted the recommendation of an expert panel to reopen camps established a decade ago by a conservative administration, and that legislation to enable the deportation of asylum seekers will be introduced to parliament when it resumes today after a six-week break.
The decision was a spectacular back down in the divisive political debate about how to stop the growing number of asylum seekers reaching Australia in boats that are not seaworthy.
“When our nation looks at what is happening at sea as people attempt dangerous journeys to Australia, too many lives have been lost and I’m not going to play politics or look at political scoreboards when too many lives have been lost,” Ms Gillard said after her cabinet gave its support in principle for all the recommendations in the report.
The proposals aim to curb boat arrivals by removing any advantages that asylum seekers might gain in their refugee claims by reaching Australia. The report was drawn up by a panel headed by former Australian defence force chief Angus Houston, and combines policy proposals by the major political parties, who have been bitterly divided on the issue.
Human rights group Amnesty International described the recommendations as a major setback for refugee policy.
Ms Gillard commissioned the report six weeks ago after two people-smuggling boats capsized between Indonesia and Australia within a week, with more than 90 asylum seekers believed to have drowned. She said she hoped the report’s findings would break the political deadlock on the issue.
More than 7,000 asylum seekers – many from war-torn countries including Afghanistan, Iraq and Sri Lanka – have reached the Australian Indian Ocean territory of Christmas Island in more than 100 boats so far this year. Many Australians resent the growing numbers of refugees arriving on Australian shores and the issue has emerged as a major threat to the survival of Ms Gillard’s government in elections due next year. The death toll from the dangerous voyages has heightened the political imperative to stop the traffic.
The senate in June rejected a bill that would have allowed the government to deport asylum seekers to Malaysia. The Labour Party has wanted to send asylum seekers there as part of a swap deal in which Australia would resettle bona fide refugees from Kuala Lumpur registered with the United Nations.
The conservative opposition argues that asylum seekers’ rights would not be respected by Malaysia because it has not signed the UN Refugee Convention. It says the detention camps should be in Nauru and Papua New Guinea, whose governments have expressed support.
The report recommends the Nauru and Papua New Guinea centres be quickly re-established. It also said the Malaysian deal needed more work to address human rights concerns, “rather than being discarded or neglected.”
Search for a job
Search for a car
Search for a house
Weather for Edinburgh
Sunday 26 May 2013
Temperature: 9 C to 16 C
Wind Speed: 15 mph
Wind direction: West
Temperature: 8 C to 12 C
Wind Speed: 18 mph
Wind direction: South