Australia is offering asylum seekers in its Pacific immigration camps up to A$10,000 (HK$73,000) if they voluntarily return to their home country, a report said yesterday, prompting outrage from refugee campaigners.
Those returning to Lebanon from detention centres on Papua New Guinea's Manus Island and the tiny Pacific state of Nauru were offered the highest amount, A$10,000.
Iranians and Sudanese were given A$7,000 if they dropped bids for refugee status, Afghans A$4,000 and those from Pakistan, Nepal and Myanmar A$3,300, The Sydney Morning Herald report said.
Immigration Minister Scott Morrison said "return packages" were standard practice but would not reveal what the maximum payments had been.
"It has been the standard practice for more than a decade for settlement packages to be offered to those who voluntarily return home," Morrison said.
The Labor opposition's spokesman Richard Marles said the government should be ensuring that asylum seekers' claims were being properly processed, not issuing "blank cheques".
Australia has toughened its policy on asylum seekers in recent years, with those arriving on unauthorised boats now refused residency in Australia even if they are deemed refugees. Instead they are held in detention camps on Manus and Nauru and are expected to be resettled in those countries if their claims are valid.
Since the policy was introduced, more asylum seekers have chosen to voluntarily return home, while the number of people attempting to reach Australia by boat has plunged.
Refugee campaigners said returning asylum seekers could still face persecution back home.
"The idea that you would put people in a hell-hole like Manus Island, treat them abysmally and then try to bribe them to go back to the appalling circumstances they left shows just how morally bankrupt this government is," Greens party leader Christine Milne said.