Refugee Offer ‘Act Of Weakness’

Refugee offer 'act of weakness'

The Age
November 13, 2009

AN OFFER to resettle refugeees on the Oceanic Viking within a set time frame was an ''act of weakness'', Opposition Leader Malcolm Turnbull said yesterday.

In an attempt to break the deadlock, Australia's ambassador to Jakarta, Bill Farmer, yesterday held talks with Indonesia's Deputy Foreign Minister, Triyono Wibowo, and other officials.

The talks centred on whether the 78 Sri Lankans can be kept in community housing. It is believed the asylum seekers may change their mind if the prospect of being housed in the heavily guarded Tanjung Pinang centre is taken off the table.

But Indonesian Foreign Ministry spokesman Teuku Faizasyah said: ''We remain firm that they must be placed in the detention centre.''

Australia has already made significant concessions, telling the Tamils in a letter that, for those already found to be refugees, ''Australian officials will assist you to be resettled within four to six weeks from the time you disembark''.

It is believed 30 of the Tamils have already been assessed as refugees. Others would be assessed within 12 weeks.

This is quicker than processing for asylum seekers who reach Australian waters, with Federal Government figures showing an average of 100 days.

Immigration Minister Chris Evans acknowledged that most would come to Australia. He declined to say what other incentives remained to be offered to break the impasse. ''We're not looking to bribe them,'' he said.

But Mr Turnbull said: “What type of signal does that send? That is just telegraphing a signal in letters a mile high, 'Come to Australia, Kevin will fix you up'.

''It is an extraordinary act of weakness, a collapse of leadership and it sends an unequivocal signal to people smugglers and their customers to come to Australia in an unauthorised way.'' He is expected to release an alternative policy today.

The rejected deal is also at odds with comments from Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, who said that normal processes would apply. ''We will work through as we have done with other challenges Calmly, methodically,'' he said in Delhi.

Meanwhile, Australian officials went out to the Oceanic Viking yesterday carrying dozens of thick A4 sized envelopes filled with documents and apparently due to be handed to the asylum seekers.

The crisis is expected to be high on the agenda when Mr Rudd meets Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono at the APEC summit in Singapore in coming days.

Separately, Foreign Minister Stephen Smith confirmed that increasing the immigration intake from Sri Lanka was being discussed as an option to reduce the appeal of boat travel. This could happen within the ordinary migration program, he said.

''We can do things which will undercut the attractiveness of the people smugglers, so that we don't have Sri Lankans at risk on the high seas,'' he said.