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Australia slams the door on would-be asylum seekers

Pallavi Aiyar
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To be sent to Papua New Guinea under new arrangement

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has announced that would-be asylum seekers arriving in Australia by boat will no longer be resettled in the country. They will instead be sent to Papua New Guinea (PNG) for “assessment”, under a new bilateral governmental agreement.

Even if found to be “genuine” refugees, Mr. Rudd made it clear that asylum-seekers would have “no chance” of settlement in Australia and will have to remain in PNG. Those whose applications are not successful would be sent back home or to third countries.

The Regional Settlement Arrangement, which was signed by the two countries on Friday, will initially be implemented for 12 months and reviewed annually. It will come into effect immediately. In exchange for their cooperation, Papua New Guinea will get extra foreign aid from Australia in a range of areas including health, education and law and order.

It is hoped by Mr. Rudd that his hard-line stance will pose a strong disincentive for people considering the dangerous journey.

For many asylum seekers and economic migrants from south and west Asian countries like Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Iran, a dangerous boat journey to Australia has increasingly become the course of choice.

These “boat refugees” tend to land on Australia’s tiny Christmas Island, which is located just 220 miles south of Indonesian archipelago, making Indonesia the most popular kick-off point for the trips.

Friday’s deal with PNG was announced as Indonesia joined the fight against people smuggling, having come under strong pressure from the Australian government in recent weeks. On Thursday, Jakarta announced a crackdown on issuing visas on arrival to Iranians who transit the country en route to Australia.

Rapid increase

The number of asylum seekers in Australia rose from 161 in 2008; to 17,202 in 2012. The first seven months of 2013 have nearly eclipsed that total with 15,182 asylum seekers arriving on 218 boats.

More than 800 people have died in sea accidents making the trip since 2009, according to figures from Australia’s Department of Immigration.


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