Australia asylum panel recommends offshore processing

Photo released by the Indonesian National Search And Rescue Agency of a wooden boat believed to have up to 180 asylum seekers on board, off Christmas Island, Australia, 4 July, 2012 Asylum seekers often make the dangerous journey in boats that are poorly maintained

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Australia should set up offshore processing centres for asylum seekers in Nauru and Papua New Guinea, and "pursue" a refugee agreement with Malaysia, a panel says.

The three-strong independent panel was appointed by PM Julia Gillard to break government deadlock on the issue.

Australia has seen an increase in the number of asylum-seekers arriving by boat in recent months.

At least 170 people arrived in three boats over the weekend, reports said.

The panel said its recommendations aimed to encourage people to seek asylum through official channels and reduce the number of illegal boat arrivals.

Implementation would cost A$1bn a year ($1.06bn, £674m), it added.

'Realistic not idealistic'

The two offshore facilities should be established ''as soon as possible'', the panel said, as part of a ''comprehensive regional network''.

Australia asylum

  • In 2010, there were 6,535 Irregular Maritime Arrivals (IMAs - people coming by sea) in 134 vessels
  • In 2011, 4,565 IMAs arrived in 69 vessels
  • As of 13 August 2012, 7,629 IMAs had arrived in 114 boats
  • To date, July has been the busiest month, with 1,798 IMAs
  • Most of the IMAs from 2009-2011 came from Afghanistan, Sri Lanka and Iran
  • Some asylum-seekers arrive by plane. Between July 2010 and June 2011, 6,316 people applied in this way

Source: Australian Department of Immigration and Citizenship

The independent panel, led by former defence chief Angus Houston, set out 22 key recommendations in its report.

These include:

  • increasing Australia's humanitarian programme from 13,000 to 20,000 places a year, with consideration to go up to 27,000 in five years;
  • not allowing asylum seekers who arrive by boat to sponsor family members to come to Australia;
  • ramping up efforts to work with Indonesia on surveillance and search and rescue;
  • reviews of related laws, legislation, and a thorough review of determining refugee status.

"We recommend a policy approach that is hard-headed but not hard-hearted. That is realistic not idealistic,'' said Mr Houston, in a press statement.

Ms Gillard had been pushing for a compromise deal on the issue.

Her Labor Party backed a refugee swap deal with Malaysia, under which Australia would send 800 asylum-seekers who arrived by boat to Malaysia and receive 4,000 refugees in return over four years.

Last year a court ruled against such a move, saying Malaysia - which has not signed UN refugee conventions - did not offer adequate protection.

In its report, the panel called for the agreement to ''be built on further, rather than being discarded or neglected" and for ''safeguards and accountability'' to be strengthened.

The opposition, on the other hand, wants an immigration detention centre on Nauru to be reopened and for the navy to be able to turn back boats.

In its report, the panel noted that the ''conditions necessary'' to turn back boats in safe and lawful ways are ''currently not met'', but this ''could change in the future''.

Boats sunk

In June, Australia's parliament voted down an asylum bill after fierce debate was reignited by the sinking of two boats in one week off Christmas Island.


Parliament is due to reconvene this week.

"We'll be taking their recommendations very seriously because the Australian people have had a gutful of this and they want it sorted," Immigration Minister Chris Bowen told ABC Radio.

Asylum seekers often target Christmas Island, off Australia's northwest coast, to get to the country. They make the dangerous journey in boats that are usually overloaded and poorly maintained.

About 50 asylum-seekers died when their boat broke up on rocks off Christmas Island in December 2010.

Last Thursday, the Australian navy rescued more than 200 people from a boat in rough water - believed to be one of the largest number of arrivals in one boat.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 61.

    Just a thought (and I maybe wrong about this). If immigrants (legal and otherwise) flee to the UK and Australia, to escape the horrors of their home country's culture, why do they then try to turn here in to there? The refusal to speak our language, respect our laws, customs, culture, & heritage, seem to be the opposite of what one might expect them to do.
    I don't understand!

  • rate this

    Comment number 60.

    Every country of the world needs skilled migrants."

    Silly comment - if every country needs them, where are they to come from - Mars?


    #24 I mentioned Mo Farah. I could also have mentioned ..... people from other cultures assimilating into our society and making us all better for it."

    A handful of athletes and one VC don't make up for the downside.

  • rate this

    Comment number 59.

    # 52.mccain "the only solution to stop illegal immigration".
    - solution is to resolve the need for emigration in first place, which may be severe conditions like war or in these depressive times, financial desperation;
    - deportation back is no answer as many emigrants would rather face death, or is death that elitist countries really want? No people, no problem.

  • rate this

    Comment number 58.

    @47 'redrobb'
    There are many reasons for fleeing your country - unfortunately the people they leave behind are women and children to face the horror.

    Young men climbing on to trucks at ports. Many are just are fleeing conscription in their home countries. Very stylish and brave. Not.

  • rate this

    Comment number 57.

    48.Robert = Just look at refugees fleeing Syriia & tell them return & 'change things'
    The Syrians fleeing Syria are doing so because of the armed terrorists attempting to overthrow the Assad goverment. These terrorists are using civilians as a human shield and to our shame we are giving these terrorists support and money.

  • Comment number 56.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 55.

    I have always thought that Asylum seekers should be housed and processed in the British Embassy in the country they come from or the nearest one if we don't have one there. It just makes more sense from a logistical point of view and means these people don't have to risk perilous journeys or unsavoury human traffickers to escape from their horrors.

  • rate this

    Comment number 54.

    How about putting pressure on the leaders of these countries causing intolerable problems for their citizens
    Solve the problem at its source instead of coming up with simplistic "solutions" that are doomed to fail.
    But oh no, it's business as normal.

  • rate this

    Comment number 53.

    I'm sick of being called racist at every turn. Questioning or criticising the immigration policy (or lack thereof) or a govt does not make me racist. It is my right as a voter. Sadly, the BBC does not agree with this, and frequently removes my comments. If the Australian govt adopts the policy discussed, presumably the BBC moderator will delete Australia.

    Not racist, just realist.

  • rate this

    Comment number 52.

    the only solution to stop illegal immigration ;
    1)deporting illegal immigrants
    2)stop welfare for non citizens
    the next day you will be alone enjoying the smell of fresh air

  • rate this

    Comment number 51.

    24 Minutes ago
    #38 The people who died in WW1 did so to stop Germany conquering the entire channel coast (our foreign policy since the 1600's). //

    Not sure we were all that worried about Germany in the 1600's. Or that it's anything to do with immigration and multiculturalism now.

  • rate this

    Comment number 50.

    Please excuse my obviously ignorance of history (as a lot of people on here are quoting) But the PM of Australia was an immigrant too......

    Assuming her family was sent back when they migrated to Australia with her as a 5 year old, would she be the PM today?

  • rate this

    Comment number 49.

    The population on the planet has exploded since WWII. It's difficult to see how long many countries can sustain their existing numbers for much longer without free contraception - especially for women.

    No, I'm not being sexist - but some countries/cultures forbid women that freedom of choice, among others such as education - now that IS sexist.

  • rate this

    Comment number 48.

    Surely it would be better for everyone concerned if people dissatisfied with their country banded together to change it for the better, instead of just fleeing somewhere else and causing problems for another country?
    These people are risking their lives and fleeing because they CANNOT change anything.
    Just look at refugees fleeing Syriia & tell them return & 'change things'.

  • rate this

    Comment number 47.

    Regardless of age, religion or whatever, ask yourself this question if there was severe hardship in your own country with very little or no hope of changing, and you were the sole bread-winner for the family. What would you do? If you can answer this truthfully, I'm guessing you'd do exactly the same as these masses of immigrants do!

  • Comment number 46.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 45.

    Nothing will change until the fundamental problem is fixed. Would you really leave a country like Spain or Greece to come to the UK? The motivation here is poverty and lack of opportunity, the same motivation all over the world. Nothing is going to change while WE ALLOW other governments continued marginalization of their own people. Politicians need to grow a pair, face facts and deal with it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 44.

    Aren't Australians themselves not illegal immigrants? Are not the Aborigines the rightful people of that land? The usual utter hypocrisy from a country that has little regard for human rights.

  • rate this

    Comment number 43.

    Migrants, Skilled Migrants, Economies, Asylum Seekers and the differences.//

    No, you're the one that clearly needs the lessons, from reality, rather than the Legrain/BBC/Guardian.

    //Every country of the world needs skilled migrants.//

    Doubt it. Tell many countries that they need skilled white English people and you'll be told you're racist.

  • rate this

    Comment number 42.

    # 31 Newcomers who become involved in bombing/honour killing/force marriages/rioting should automatically be sent back, straight away.
    We have enough of these criminals here already.
    I believe St Kilda is nice all year round, it is just a pity it is not big enough.


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