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 81.

    Colonise the countries that the asylum-seekers come from, strip them of any wealth they had built up, make them poor, rob them of ancestral lands and sell them to global mining companies, take over a continent, bomb the hell out of the asylum-seeker's homelands as you seek to recolonise, then turn them away when they turn up on the shores of your new continent.

  • rate this

    Comment number 80.

    Deport the non-Aboriginals/treat non-Aboriginals as the immigrants they are and let the Aboriginals, the original people of Australia, decide what to do with all the immigrants.

  • rate this

    Comment number 79.

    International Asylum rules are very clear.

    Asylum seekers MUST seek asylum at the first safe country they reach.

    Unless France etc has suddenly become very dangerous, 95% of "asylum seekers" reaching the UK are NOT legally asylum seekers, they are ECONOMIC MIGRANTS.

    We need to stop CALLING them Asylum Seekers when they are NOT, and assess their right to stay based on what they really are.

  • rate this

    Comment number 78.

    @67 'Robert'
    Did a search - Worth a look Robert. However, I see your point that 'original' indigenous people had a hard time due to the discoveries of isolated and huge land mass such as the Americas and Australasia.

    I understand that Aboriginal art sells well and Native Americans run very profitable casinos. Perhaps these profits should go to disenfranchised indigenous too?

  • rate this

    Comment number 77.

    The Australian proposal sounds a lot more humane than the current Bangla Deshi policy of chucking a bag of rice on board before pushing the boats and all those in them back out to sea.

  • rate this

    Comment number 76.

    ...and now we have a use for the Falkland Islands that doesn't centre around drilling holes in the sea-bed.

    With an added bonus that once we've moved all the asylum seekers there, Argentina probably wont want them any more.

  • rate this

    Comment number 75.

    Julia Gillard and her friends in the Australian government are trying a new tack on the old "White Australia" policy. We can "ship them all away..." etc. In europe if we did the same to all Australians who overstay their visas - keeping them in huts on the Cayman Islands for example - they might feel somewhat differently about the policy. Then again, London's pubs would be very short of staff!

  • rate this

    Comment number 74.

    Are those countries who complain about immigration not being somewhat hypocritical? Most of the worlds resources come from third world countries, where western companies ravage their land and offer the indiginous population peanuts in return. Then we have the cheek to say to those people, sorry you can't come in, but we still need your countries resources to make money for ourselves.

  • rate this

    Comment number 73.

    So Australia is going to spend 1 billion dollars a year to prevent a fraction of less than 8,000 people arriving per year ? do the mathematics - they could give 100,000 dollars to each person that arrived as business startup finance and it would be cheaper and probably end up making a profit. If someone has the guts to get to Australia against the odds then they have the drive to make it work.

  • rate this

    Comment number 72.

    Please enlighten how Australia got the current population mix. Was the process problematic to anyone?

  • rate this

    Comment number 71.

    32 Minutes ago
    "Two words. Mo Farah."

    Two more words: Abu Hamza

    What a fun game this is!//

    And two numbers 7/7. One bloke running quickly round a track several times does not justify a generalisation about a whole group, or compensate for the serious, real life, problems immigration causes.

  • rate this

    Comment number 70.

    Lets be honest, most of us would love it if our government could be as firm as the Aussies. Reports show the first 'African' Olympic athletes trying to claim asylum, as we gave them all visa's until November (why when the games finished in August?). We can expect more. With the world over population getting worse we can expect a flood of asylum seekers in the next decade unless we get tough.

  • rate this

    Comment number 69.

    @2 Oh no, heaven forbid they BREED and conaminate that pure aryan blood......

    (Oh, and nefore anyone with half a brain cell complains, that's called sarcasm.....)

  • rate this

    Comment number 68.

    The UK should be doing France.

  • rate this

    Comment number 67.

    How do the Aboriginals feel about this – or hasn’t anyone bothered to ask them?
    I wonder what they would have made of it all, 224 years ago

  • rate this

    Comment number 66.

    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? I'm guessing you'd do exactly the same as these masses of immigrants do!//

    No doubt. But that's no reason for us to accept them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 65.

    Please check out this short documentary called number 419 on exactly this issue. Giving an insight from a refugees point of view as well as a captain on sea rescuing refugees in danger.


  • rate this

    Comment number 64.

    Could we please stop talking about "asylum seekers" . They are illegal immigrants until such time as they have proved they are genuinely in danger in their own country.

  • Comment number 63.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 62.

    @15 Del

    The standard of your spelling, punctuation and grammar really is a true reflection of the intelligence of your argument.


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