Australia finds half of asylum seekers held in Papua New Guinea camp genuine
About half of the asylum seekers assessed after being held for months by Australia in a detention camp on Papua New Guinea are genuine refugees.
Immigration Minister Scott Morrison made the admission when announcing Australia would create a new border protection agency merging operations from the customs and immigration departments, potentially saving the government hundreds of millions of dollars.
Morrison said the new agency would be led by a civilian commissioner who would report directly to him as the government looks to build on its success in halting boat-people arrivals.
Australia has adopted a hardline policy against asylum-seekers entering its waters on unauthorised boats, with its military-led Operation Sovereign Borders preventing any new arrivals in the past four months.
Under the policy, boats are being turned back to Indonesia, where most originate, while anyone who does arrive is sent to camps on Nauru and Papua New Guinea's Manus Island in the Pacific for processing. They are denied resettlement in Australia.
Morrison said the first decisions on 1,200 asylum seekers held on Manus Island had been made this week. He did not say how many refugee applications had been determined, but said there had been "both positive and negative decisions, in about equal measure".
He said an Australia-funded plan to resettle the genuine refugees in Papua New Guinea would go to that country's cabinet ministers for approval next week, paving the way for refugees to leave the detention camp and make new homes.
Ian Rintoul, spokesman for the Australian advocacy group Refugee Action Coalition, said he knew of only two successful refugee decisions on Manus Island - an Iranian man and a Pakistani man. No announcement was made inside the camp of any rejections, he said.
Neither of the bona fide refugees felt that the uncertainty over his future had been resolved, Rintoul said.
"They don't think it's possible for them to be safely resettled in Papua New Guinea," he said. "It's a determination that has no substance for them. Papua New Guinea is not equipped and cannot and will not provide secure resettlement."
The creation of a new border agency is in line with a recommendation in a recent National Commission of Audit commissioned by Prime Minister Tony Abbott's government.
The agency, which is expected to be up and running by the middle of next year, will remove duplication of services.
"We're talking about a civil agency, a law enforcement agency which deals not just with the customs challenges as the current Australian Customs and Border Protection Service does but the immigration challenges as well," Morrison added.
Additional reporting by Associated Press