Aussie PM backs deportation of asylum seekers
CANBERRA: Australia's prime minister announced a sharp reversal in her government's policy on asylum seekers yesterday, saying it will introduce legislation allowing their deportation to the poor Pacific nations of Papua New Guinea and Nauru to face lengthy stays in detention camps.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard's center-left Labor Party had long argued against the concept of Australian-funded detention camps on the island nations as an expensive waste of money that would fail to deter new arrivals. But she said her government has accepted the recommendation of an expert panel yesterday to reopen camps established a decade ago by a conservative administration, and that legislation to enable the deportation of asylum seekers will be introduced to Parliament when it resumes today after a six-week break.
The decision was a spectacular back down in the divisive political debate about how to stop the growing number of asylum seekers reaching Australia in rickety fishing boats.
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“When our nation looks at what is happening at sea as people attempt dangerous journeys to Australia, too many lives have been lost and I'm not going to play politics or look at political scoreboards when too many lives have been lost,” Gillard told reporters after her Cabinet gave its support in principle for all the recommendations in the expert panel's report.
The report aims to curb boat arrivals by removing any advantages that asylum seekers might gain in their refugee claims by reaching Australia. It was drawn up by a panel headed by former Australian Defense Force Chief Angus Houston and combines policy proposals by the major political parties, who have been bitterly divided on the issue.
Human rights group Amnesty International described the report's recommendations as a major setback for Australian refugee policy.
Gillard commissioned the report six weeks ago after two people-smuggling boats capsized between Indonesia and Australia within a week, with more than 90 asylum seekers believed to have drowned. She said she hoped the report's findings would break the political deadlock on the issue.
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More than 7,000 asylum seekers — many from war-torn countries including Afghanistan, Iraq and Sri Lanka — have reached the Australian Indian Ocean territory of Christmas Island in more than 100 boats so far this year.
Posted by: Steve White