The National, Monday July 22nd, 2013
AUSTRALIA has slammed the door shut on asylum seekers who arrive by boat.
The boat people will now be sent to Papua New Guinea with the opportunity to be resettled there “if they are found to be genuine refugees”.
The hard-line approach was announced last Friday after Australia Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and PNG Prime Minister Peter O’Neill signed a new agreement allowing the resettlement of asylum seekers in PNG under a regional arrangement.
O’Neill told a press conference after the signing in Brisbane that PNG had its own refugee issues, having received for many years “tens of thousands of (West Papua) refugees in our country”.
“I believe that the processing centre and the resettlement arrangement that we’re now forging will enable us to have an orderly process in those people who are seeking genuine citizenship of other countries in the region,” he said.
“And that is why we agreed to a resettlement programme where we believe strongly that genuine refugees can be resettled in our country and within the region in the years to come.
“This is a regional initiative that we think that the region continues to face as Pacific communities, such as PNG, and other small island states continue to have challenges maintaining their borders.
“We have insisted since we came into government that we wanted to establish a permanent regional processing centre.
“Today’s regional resettlement programme is one that we believe will resolve many of those issues we have brought to the Australian government.”
Asylum seekers arriving at Christmas Island would be sent to the Manus Island processing centre and elsewhere in PNG for assessment of their refugee status.
Rudd said the arrangement would apply for the next 12 months and be subject to annual review.
“From now on, any asylum seeker who arrives in Australia by boat will have no chance of being settled in Australia as a refugee,” Rudd said.
Australia will fund further aid initiatives for its neighbour under the agreement, including redeveloping a major referral hospital in Lae and assisting with its long-term management.
Australia will also supply half the funding to reform PNG’s university sector and next year, implement the recommendations of an Australia-PNG education review.
As well, it will support professional management teams in health, education and law and order.
“And Australia … stands ready to assist PNG further with other development needs in the future,” Rudd told O’Neill.
“That’s what friends are for.”
Former prime minister Julia Gillard in August last year reinstated the Howard government’s policy of processing asylum seekers on Manus Island and Nauru.
The Manus facility has since been criticised by former staff, refugee advocates and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees for its harsh living conditions.
The temporary facility on the island currently houses 215 people in tents and shelters and a permanent 600-bed facility is due for completion in January.
Australia will bear the full cost of the scheme, including any infrastructure and services PNG needed to implement the policy.