Labour Urged To End Offshore Asylum Seeker Processing

Labor urged to end offshore asylum seeker processing

Jewel Topsfield
The Age
January 22, 2008

THE Rudd Government has been attacked for refusing to abolish offshore processing of asylum seekers outside of Australian law on remote Christmas Island.

Labor went to the election promising to dismantle the controversial “Pacific Solution”, introduced after the Tampa crisis in 2001, under which asylum seekers intercepted before they reached Australia were processed on Nauru or Manus Island.

The Federation of Ethnic Communities Council of Australia said continuing to process asylum seekers on Christmas Island 2600 kilometres from Perth flew in the face of the Government's commitment to close the Nauruan camp.

Senior deputy chairman John Gebhardt called for an end to all offshore processing, saying it diluted Australia's commitment to human rights. “Dismantling of the Pacific Solution, while increasing offshore processing capacity on Christmas Island is robbing Peter to pay Paul.”

In 2001, Labor sided with the Howard government to excise Christmas and Cocos islands and Ashmore and Cartier reefs past destinations for people smugglers from Australia's migration zone. The excising of the islands prevents potential asylum seekers who reach them from invoking Australia's refugee protection regime.

Labor for Refugees a lobby group of ALP members and unionists is seeking a meeting with Immigration Minister Chris Evans to urge him to return Christmas Island to Australia's migration zone and abolish the two-tier system of processing asylum seekers, where those who reach the mainland are treated differently from those whose boats are intercepted outside the zone.

“Our concern about Christmas Island is that it is inconsistent for a part of Australian territory to be treated differently under Australian immigration law,” said Labor for Refugees spokesman Daney Faddoul.

He said the isolation of the island also made it prohibitively expensive for anyone who wished to visit the asylum seekers to provide legal and other services.

David Manne, from the Refugee and Immigration Legal Centre, said there was no guarantee that asylum seekers processed on Christmas Island and found to be genuine refugees would be resettled in Australia. “It's a matter of profound concern that the Government appears to be replacing the Pacific Solution with an Indian Ocean Solution,” he said.

Last week, Senator Evans visited Christmas Island, where a new $396 million detention centre is being built. The new centre will house up to 800 detainees. There are six people in detention on the island.

“The Australian Government is committed to dismantling the Pacific strategy. The Christmas Island Immigration Detention Centre will play a key role in the orderly processing of unauthorised arrivals to our country,” Senator Evans said last week.