24 Aug 2012

Soldiers head to Nauru to build asylum-seeker centre

11:01 pm on 24 August 2012

Australian soldiers are heading to Nauru to start working on an offshore processing centre for asylum-seekers.

The federal government has secured agreement with Nauru to begin work on the so-called temporary offshore processing centre.

The defence force is sending 120 soldiers to Nauru for the project; the first 30 was expected to fly there on Friday.

Immigration minister Chris Bowen says he expects there will be room for 500 asylum-seekers at the Nauru site by the end of September.

Eventually the government expects that centre and one on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea's Admiralty Islands to house about 2000 people.

The government announced on Thursday that Australia will boost its humanitarian refugee intake from 13,750 to 20,000 people this financial year.

Move 'will save thousands of lives'

Refugee advocate Paris Aristotle was on the panel that advised the government on ways of stopping people from trying to reach Australia by boat.

He endorsed offshore processing reluctantly on the proviso that more genuine refugees are accepted.

"It will literally save the lives of a further 6,250 people," Mr Aristotle told the ABC. "It will be saying to people 'We're taking this issue of a regional arrangement seriously. We've increased the quota. Don't get on a boat and risk your life and potentially drown. Stay where you are and the system will begin to work for you'."