Australia to send asylum-seekers to PNG

People arriving by boat to seek
asylum will no longer be resettled in
Australia but will go to Papua New
Guinea, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd
has announced.
The news came as Mr Rudd set out an
overhaul of asylum policy ahead of a
general election expected shortly.
Australia has seen a sharp rise in the
number of asylum-seekers arriving by
boat in recent months.
Mr Rudd said the "hard-line decision"
was taken to ensure border security.
It was also aimed at dissuading people
from making the dangerous journey to
Australia by boat.
"Our country has had enough of people-
smugglers exploiting asylum-seekers and
seeing them drown on the high seas," he
said.
'No chance'
The deal - called the Regional Settlement
Arrangement - was signed by the
Australian and PNG leaders on Friday.
Mr Rudd, who ousted Julia Gillard as
Labor Party leader amid dismal polling
figures last month, made the
announcement in Brisbane flanked by
PNG Prime Minister Peter O'Neill.
"From now on, any asylum-seeker who
arrives in Australia by boat will have no
chance of being settled in Australia as a
refugee," Mr Rudd said.
Under the agreement, new arrivals will be
sent to PNG - which is a signatory to the
United Nations Refugees Convention - for
assessment and settled there if found to
be a refugee.
To accommodate the new arrivals, an
offshore processing centre in PNG's
Manus island will be significantly
expanded to hold up to 3,000 people.
No cap has been placed on the number
of people Australia can send to PNG, Mr
Rudd said.
"The new arrangements will allow
Australia to help more people who are
genuinely in need and help prevent
people smugglers from abusing our
system."
The two leaders signed the deal in Brisbane
on Friday
The rules would apply to all those
arriving in Australia by boat from today,
Immigration Minister Tony Burke said.
In return, Australia is to channel aid to
PNG, including to a major regional
hospital and the university sector, The
Australian reported. No costs were
disclosed in connection with the deal.
Boat arrivals have soared in the past 18
months, with most asylum seekers
coming from Iraq, Iran, Sri Lanka and
Afghanistan. They make their way to
Indonesia and from there head to
Christmas Island, the closest part of
Australian territory to Java.
They travel in boats that are often over-
crowded and poorly-maintained. Several
have sunk in recent months, killing
passengers.
Last year, the Australian government
reintroduced a controversial policy
under which people arriving by boat in
Australia are sent to camps in Nauru and
Papua New Guinea for processing.
But the policy has so far failed to deter
boat people, who are arriving in
increasing numbers. It has also been
strongly criticised - most recently by the
UNHCR - for the conditions which
asylum-seekers face at the camps.
Late on Thursday, Indonesia said it had
agreed to stop giving Iranians visas on
arrival as part of the measures to ease
the problem.
'Turned its back'
Asylum has become a key election issue
in Australia and polls must be called
before the end of November.
Opposition leader Tony Abbott - whose
party looked on course to trounce Labor
at the polls before the leadership change
- has said he will turn boats back to
Indonesia when safe to do so.
Responding to this agreement he said:
"While this certainly is a very promising
development in offshore processing, it is
about processing boat people, it's not
about stopping the boats and that in the
end is what we have to have."
Human rights advocate David Manne,
meanwhile, said Australia had signed up
to international conventions to protect
"people who come to its shores, not
exposing them to further risks
elsewhere".
"The fact remains that Australia hosts
only 0.3% of refugees worldwide and yet
what we see here is a policy designed
not only to deter asylum seekers from
coming and seeking refuge in Australia,
but one that also proposes to shift our
responsibilities on to others," the
Australian Broadcasting Corporation
quoted him as saying.
Rights group Amnesty International's
regional refugee co-ordinator Graeme
McGregor said the move would be
marked "as the day Australia decided to
turn its back on the world's most
vulnerable people, closed the door and
threw away the key".