Entry For 120 Asylum Seekers

Entry for 120 asylum seekers

Mark Forbes, Denpasar
The Age (Melbourne)
May 5, 2007

IN A shift from its hardline immigration stance, Australia will accept 120 Afghan and Iraqi asylum seekers stranded in Indonesia for more than five years by its border protection policies.

Although the asylum seekers failed to qualify as refugees, Australia has finally agreed to resettle them as humanitarian cases. Most have relatives in Australia, but all have been previously rejected for resettlement.

The about-face follows pleas from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the highlighting of their plight in The Age last December.

Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews confirmed the asylum seekers would arrive this month.

The dilemma of those left in limbo in camps across Indonesia unwilling or unable to return to strife-torn homelands was “a problem we ultimately had to find a solution to”, he said.

Most of the 120 attempted to reach Australia illegally, but were halted by border protection operations in 2001 and 2002. Some were on boats turned back by the Australian navy.

In Jakarta for talks on border protection and immigration, Mr Andrews said the decision to resettle the 120 would aid future operations with Indonesia against people smuggling .

“Indonesia has done the right thing in allowing people to stay here but they also don't want people here forever who are not originally their problem,” he said.

“It's a carrot-and-stick approach. We are generous in terms of our humanitarian refugee program, but we want to operate in terms of the proper process and we want to discourage people making money out of people smuggling.

“They have been here for years and have done things the right way over the last few years. The alternative is that one way or another they are lured back into the hands of people smugglers and end up on a boat again. That is something we want to discourage at all costs.”

Mr Andrews announced a joint people-smuggling taskforce and an $8 million grant to international organisations in Indonesia to process illegal migrants.

Australia has agreed to accept half of the 240 Iraqis and Afghanis trapped in Indonesia, with the majority of the others likely to be resettled in countries including Canada and New Zealand. The UNHCR is urging Australia to accept any who remain.

One of the Iraqis to come to Australia is Mugdad Saber, who lost one of his three-year-old twin daughters when the rickety boat attempting to bring them to Australia sank five years ago.

Mr Saber said he was overjoyed and was eagerly anticipating a reunion with his wife's parents, who live in Sydney.

Before Canberra's about-face, it was paying nearly $3 million a year to Jakarta to accommodate the asylum seekers.


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