The National, Monday August 5th, 2013
AUSTRALIA has expanded its plan banishing asylum-seekers arriving by boat to Papua New Guinea to include the far-flung Pacific island of Nauru.
According to news agency Agence France-Presse, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and Nauru President Baron Waqa signed a deal allowing unauthorised asylum boat arrivals to be sent to the remote island for processing and ultimate resettlement under a tough new policy effectively closing Australia to boatpeople.
The plan initially involved PNG, but Rudd said Nauru had also decided to join the initiative.
Family groups and unaccompanied minors would be the focus of transfers to Nauru, Rudd said of the deal, which would see the tiny Pacific atoll get a significant Australian aid boost.
“Nauru is a nation with a small population. We would only expect modest numbers to ever be involved in settlement,” said Rudd.
“It is clear that the only way to deal with the challenge of people smuggling is through a comprehensive regional approach.’’
The so-called PNG solution, which Canberra hoped will stem a record influx of boat arrivals that has topped 15,000 so far this year, has been criticised by refugee advocates and human rights groups.
Riots erupted at the existing refugee processing centre on Nauru – a sparse 21skm island with a population of just 9,400 – following Rudd’s announcement last month that Australia would stop accepting any refugees arriving by boat.
Most buildings were razed and more than 100 detainees have been charged over the incident, which has resulted in the erection of a tent city on the other side of the island as temporary refugee housing.
Waqa said Nauru was committed to “stand by” Australia in tackling what he described as a regional problem.
“I think the problem of asylum-seekers is not just Australia’s, (it’s been) discussed in so many forums that it is a regional solution for us as well,” he said.