Australia renews push for regional immigration centre
October 8, 2010
SYDNEY—-Australia will urge Indonesia, Malaysia and East Timor to back its proposal for a regional centre to process asylum-seekers during talks next week, Immigration Minister Chris Bowen said Friday.
Bowen, who will leave Monday for Dili to begin high-level discussions on people-smuggling and border security in the three countries, said he had already had encouraging feedback from neighbouring countries.
“I won't be returning next week with a final deal, but I do intend to be progressing our arrangements for our regional processing framework with our regional neighbours,” he said.
Thousands of asylum-seekers, many fleeing the conflict zones of Afghanistan and Sri Lanka, have been intercepted en route to Australia from Southeast Asian transit points this year.
Australia processes asylum applicants at its remote Indian Ocean centre on Christmas Island, but Prime Minister Julia Gillard has suggested East Timor could become a regional immigration hub.
The idea initially received a cool reception in Dili, and Bowen said Friday the concept would only work within the framework of broader cooperation.
“An offshore processing centre without a regional framework is not the solution to a regional problem,” he said.
Close to 5,000 people are currently being at Christmas Island and mainland centres, which were reopened to cope with the arrival of about 100 immigrant boats this year.
Facilities are now stretched to the limit, exacerbating a politically sensitive issue for the fragile coalition government headed by Bowen's centre-left Labor party.
The issue created headlines last month after a 36-year-old Fijian detainee died after leaping off a Sydney detention centre, prompting further rooftop protests by fellow inmates.
The opposition blames the axing of the previous government's so-called “Pacific Solution” of detaining applicants, including women and children, under stringent conditions in remote centres, for the surge in boat arrivals.