AUSTRALIA is in talks to deport to the Philippines any refugees who try to reach its shores illegally, the immigration minister said yesterday.
Australia already has a multi-million dollar deal to resettle refugees from an Australia-run detention camp on the Pacific nation of Nauru to Cambodia. But so far, only four refugees have taken up the offer of cash, free health insurance and accommodation to move from Nauru to the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh. That has prompted critics to dub the deal an expensive flop and sent the government looking for another solution.
Australia refuses to accept any refugees who attempt to reach its shores by boat. It pays Nauru and Papua New Guinea, which has a detention centre on Manus Island, to hold them instead.
Yesterday immigration minister Peter Dutton confirmed that the government has been in talks with several countries, including the Philippines, about possibly resettling its refugees in those nations.
“We have been very open to discussions for a long period of time with those partners because we have been very clear about the fact that people on Nauru and people on Manus who have sought to come to our country illegally by boat won’t be settling in Australia,” Mr Dutton said in Canberra, the nation’s capital.
“We have a bilateral arrangement with Cambodia. If we can strike other arrangements with other countries, we will do that.”
The Cambodia deal has been widely condemned by human rights groups, who say the south-east Asian nation is hardly an ideal home for refugees given its long history of poverty, corruption and human rights abuses.
The potential for a deal with the Philippines prompted similar concerns. Dutton was asked what guarantees of safety Australia could give refugees who resettle in a nation that is grappling with violent kidnappings and terrorism.
“We can provide the same guarantees that we can to Australians that travel to the Philippines each year, the expats that live in the Philippines and across south-east Asia or other parts of the world,” Mr Dutton replied, adding that refugees would be resettled there only on a voluntary basis.
Mr Dutton declined to release further details, including a timeframe for the deal or how many refugees could be resettled.
In Manila, department of foreign Affairs spokesman Charles Jose said that Australia’s proposal was “under consultation”.