Australia Toughens Asylum Laws

April 13, 2006: Australia Toughens Asylum Laws

Last Updated: Thursday, 13 April 2006, 12:43 GMT 13:43 UK

Australia toughens asylum rules

Tension over Papuan refugees has been high between Australia and Indonesia

Australia is to send all asylum seekers arriving by boat on its mainland to be processed in island camps.

Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone said those seeking refugee status would be assessed in an “offshore location”.

The move follows a diplomatic row between Australia and Indonesia over the issue of refugees.

In March, Jakarta recalled its envoy to Canberra over Australia's decision to grant refugee status to 42 people from Papua province.

Previously, since 2001, asylum seekers arriving at offshore islands were deemed to have landed outside Australia's migration zone, meaning that their cases did not fall under Australian migration law, whilst those arriving on the mainland were handled under the Australian legal process.

Under the new system, all new arrivals by boat would have their claims handled as if they were in a UN refugee camp. They would not have access to review processes under Australian law and, if their claims were upheld, could be settled in a third country.

“People found to be refugees will remain offshore until resettlement to a third country is arranged,” Ms Vanstone said.

“The new measures emphasise the government's strong commitment to effective border control while ensuring we continue to meet our international obligations,” she said.

Australia would also increase sea and air patrols off its northern coast over waters between Australia and Indonesia, Ms Vanstone said.


Prime Minister John Howard denied the move was designed to appease Indonesia, saying it was to “regularise our policy”.

But he added, “Clearly, if it… makes a contribution to (our) bilateral relationship, that is a very good thing.”

But opposition leader Kim Beazley criticised the change. “Our policy cannot be changed at the behest of any other country,” he said.

And David Mann from the Refugee and Immigration Legal Center told ABC radio that the decision was a “very dangerous overreaction”.

“Under international law, people have a clear-cut, fundamental right to seek asylum in Australia, and to have their case for protection fully and properly heard in Australia,” he said.

The decision in January to grant temporary protection visas to the group of Papuans, who arrived by boat in northern Australia, sparked protests in Indonesia and a call for a boycott of Australian goods.

There has been a low-level separatist insurgency for decades in Papua province and the Papuans, some of whom were said to be pro-independence activists, said they were fleeing Indonesian oppression.