19 Jul 2013

Australia agrees asylum deal with PNG

10:02 pm on 19 July 2013

The Australian government has announced its solution to the problem of boatloads of asylum seekers - they will be sent to Papua New Guinea for assessment and resettlement.

In a joint announcement with PNG leader Peter O'Nell, Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said on Friday that those found not to be refugees would be sent back to their own nations or a third country.

Mr Rudd said the agreement is aimed at stopping "the scourge of people smuggling" and asylum-seekers who arrive in Australia by boat would have no chance of being settled there as refugees, the ABC reports.

The deal, which lasts for 12 months, does not affect asylum seekers who arrive by air.

"I understand this is a very hard-line decision. I understand the different groups in Australia and around the world will see this decision in different ways," Mr Rudd said.

"But our responsibility as a government is to ensure we have a robust system of border security and orderly migration on the one hand, as well as fulfilling our legal and compassionate obligations under the Refugees' Convention on the other."

Peter O'Neill said he believes strongly that genuine refugees can be resettled in Papua New Guinea and the new settlement arrangement would help deal with the ongoing challenge of maintaining the borders of countries in the region.

The agreement includes a significant expansion of PNG's Manus Island detention centre to house 3000 people up from the original capacity of 600. At present, about 145 people are housed on the island.

A recent United Nations report was highly critical of conditions for asylum seekers on Manus Island, but the PNG government says construction will start on a new permanent centre shortly and it will be an improvement.

Mr Rudd said the implementation of the plan "won't be inexpensive" and is a "huge burden to budget". However, he said it is necessary because the number of asylum seekers coming by boat would continue to increase and because each vessel is at continued risk of drowning.