Pacific Solution to be abolished
December 1, 2007
THE so-called Pacific Solution, arguably the most controversial immigration law since the White Australia policy, is to be abolished.
Under the policy, which was introduced following the Tampa crisis in the lead-up to the 2001 federal election, asylum seekers intercepted before they reach the Australian mainland are processed at camps on Nauru and Manus Island, in Papua New Guinea.
A recent report by Oxfam Australia and refugee advocacy group A Just Australia said the “flawed system” fuelled mental illness in refugees, failed to uphold Australia's commitment under international law and squandered money.
Human rights activist Susan Metcalfe said that while advocates were hopeful of a more compassionate and humanitarian approach under the Labor Government, there was still a long way to go.
She and other refugee lobbyists would like to see all asylum seekers processed on the Australian mainland, even if boats were intercepted outside Australia's migration zone.
This would mean they would have access to taxpayer-funded legal help, independent appeal processes, time limits for processing and the certainty of resettlement in Australia if found to be genuine refugees.
Refugee advocates would also like to see the 89 Sri Lankan and Burmese boat people now on Nauru resettled in Australia. This includes 72 Sri Lankans who were formally recognised as refugees in September but remain stuck on the tiny island while the Government searches for a third country to accept them.
While Prime Minister-elect Kevin Rudd has claimed the Pacific solution is wrong and would be discontinued, asylum seekers intercepted outside of the migration zone would have their claims assessed on Christmas Island, not the mainland.
This would retain the two-tiered processing system, with those processed offshore remaining outside of Australian law and treated differently to those processed on the mainland, which refugee advocates say is unacceptable.
Under the new Government, Christmas Island, Cocos Island and Ashmore Reef will remain excised from Australia's migration zone.
The Government would search for a “durable solution” for boat people processed on Christmas Island and found to be genuine refugees, which could include resettling them in Australia.
However, shortly before the election, Mr Rudd refused to commit to Australia taking the 72 Sri Lankan refugees held on Nauru. He has also pledged to turn boats back at sea.
The Government is yet to commit to a deadline to closing the Nauru and Manus Island camps and transferring the 89 on Nauru to Christmas Island.
Immigration Minister-elect Christopher Evans is an unknown quantity in the role, as Tony Burke was the shadow minister when Labor was in Opposition.
Senator Evans has refused interview requests until he has been properly briefed by the Immigration Department.
However, refugee advocates have taken succour from the emphasis on human rights in his maiden speech in 1993.