Australia to send all boatpeople to poverty-hit Papua New Guinea
Hardline policy means even 'genuine refugees' have 'no chance' of settlement in Australia
Prime Minister Kevin Rudd on Friday announced that no more boatpeople will be resettled in Australia as refugees, with all unauthorised arrivals to be sent to poverty-stricken Papua New Guinea.
“From now on, any asylum-seeker who arrives in Australia by boat will have no chance of being settled in Australia as a refugee,” said Rudd, unveiling his new hardline border protection policy in an election year flanked by PNG counterpart Peter O’Neill.
Asylum-seekers arriving at Australia’s far-flung Christmas Island will be sent to the Manus Island processing centre on Papua New Guinea and elsewhere in the Pacific nation for assessment, with no cap on the number to be transferred.
Even if found to be “genuine refugees” Rudd said asylum-seekers would have “no chance” of settlement in Australia under the harsh new policy.
Those whose applications were not successful would be sent back home or to third countries.
The Regional Settlement Arrangement, which was signed by the two leaders on Friday, will initially be in effect for 12 months and reviewed annually. It will come into effect immediately.
The aim is to pose a strong disincentive for people considering the dangerous boat journey from Indonesia, particularly so-called “economic migrants” who make the trip not to flee persecution but for a better life in Australia.
Foreign Minister Bob Carr has said that increasing numbers of asylum-seekers arriving by boat fall into this category, many from Sri Lanka and Iran.
Rudd’s new policy was announced as Indonesia agreed to tighten visa restrictions for visitors from Iran, who currently enjoy visa-free entry to the sprawling Southeast Asian nation and can then pay people-smugglers for passage to Australia.
It follows talks between Rudd and Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in Jakarta earlier this month, where they announced an agreement to promote greater regional co-operation on cross-border immigration.
“The minister plans to sign a letter that will prevent Iranian citizens from being granted visas on arrival. But he has not done so yet,” Ministry of Justice and Human Rights communications chief Goncang Raharjo told AFP in Jakarta.
The hardline stance, among the strongest an Australian prime minister has taken on the divisive issue, is also designed to starve the lucrative people-smuggling networks that charge boatpeople thousands of dollars to make the hazardous trip.
“The hopes they offer their customers for the future are nothing but false hopes,” said Rudd, who added that he had spoken to United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon about the plan.
Australia has struggled to stem an influx of asylum-seekers arriving by boat, with record numbers turning up last year and more than 13,000 so far this year.
Hundreds have drowned making the journey – as recently as Tuesday a boat sank, killing four people – and Canberra’s plans to send asylum-seekers to remote Pacific islands for processing has so far failed to stop the flood.
“Australians have had enough of seeing people drowning in the waters to our north,” said Rudd, who is facing national elections later this year with asylum-seekers a major policy issue.
“Our country has had enough of people-smugglers exploiting asylum-seekers and seeing them drown on the high seas.
Australia currently sends boatpeople to Manus Island for processing only, along with Nauru in the Pacific, where current arrangements will continue.
In exchange for Papua New Guinea’s help, Australia will fund further aid initiatives including redeveloping a major hospital in Lae and assisting with its long-term management.
Australia will also contribute funds to reform the impoverished Pacific nation’s university sector and support other health, education and law and order initiatives, although no dollar figure was put on the aid.