More Pacific islands approached over asylum seeker problem
Australia lobbies more Pacific Island nations to help "shoulder the burden" of its asylum seeker issue.
The Australian government is lobbying more Pacific Island nations to help "shoulder the burden" of the country's asylum seeker issue.
This comes amid ongoing problems at the existing asylum seeker holding facilities on Nauru and Papua New Guinea's Manus Island.
Australia's Prime Minister Tony Abbott has sought commitment from his PNG counterpart Peter O'Neill that PNG will expedite the resettlement of those found to be genuine refugees. Mr O'Neill has ruled out taking on all of them and suggests other Pacific states take a share.
Tess Newton-Cain, a Nonresident Fellow at Australia's Lowy Institute for International Policy, working on the Melanesia Programme, says Peter O'Neill's comments come as no surprise.
TESS NEWTON-CAIN: It mirrors a similar sort of prevarication or distancing that we saw from the leadership of Nauru and certainly I think what O'Neill is dealing with is managing the disconnect between the engagement he has at diplomatic levels with Australia in terms of being a partner in this Pacific Solution and managing how he needs to relate to domestic constituencies where there are obviously a lot of concerns about the impact of resettling refugees within PNG.
JOHNNY BLADES: There seems to have been a couple of signals from the PNG government that they consider most of these people up in the Manus centre to be "economic refugees". That sounds kind of ominous.
TNC: I think you're right. In terms of the statements that Prime Minister O'Neill made, which were then supported by Prime Minister Abbott. Again, they've made that statement that they believe the majority of these people are economic migrants but we've been given no indication as to what the basis for that belief is. To my mind it does sound like there's some sort of pre-judgement of what's going on.
JB: And over in Nauru, how does the situation regarding the government and the judiciary impact the processing of the asylum seekers there.
TNC: There are significant questions about the impact of the rule of law. The issues relating to the lack of legal process and lack of protection of legal rights and interests is something that affects everyone on Nauru, not just asylum seekers.
JB: So is Australia kind of underwriting lawlessness in some of these places because of its interests with the asylum seeker centre?
TNC: Some of us have a concern that Australia's overriding concerns and preoccupation with what's been dubbed the Pacific Solution is leading to either mixed messages or a lack of strong voice and leadership in addressing issues to do with undermining of democratic principles and norms including the rule of law.
JB: Is Australia actively lobbying other Pacific Island nations to shoulder the burden of the asylum seeker problem, as Peter O'Neill put it?
TNC: Well, Prime Minister Abbott advised that there were discussions underway; he declined to advise with whom those discussions were being held. Previously, both Vanuatu and Solomon Islands have been approached to take people determined to be refugees for resettlement and each of those countries has declined that invitation. Late last year Niue appeared to be indicating that it would be interested in having a regional processing centre established within its jurisdiction. It subsequently backed away from that and said that no, that was not an avenue it wished to explore. Other than that I would be very surprised if we knew which Pacific islands were involved in those discussions. I imagine that until something can be said for definite, those discussions will be kept at a very low-key level.
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