The Philippines and New Zealand drawn into Tamil asylum-seeker deal
From: The Australian
December 24, 2009 12:00AM
THE Philippines and New Zealand have been drawn into the tortuous international solution to implement the special deal the Rudd government offered the 78 Tamil asylum-seekers rescued by the Oceanic Viking in October.
The Australian understands 16 of the Tamils who refused to disembark from the Customs vessel for four weeks are set to be moved from Indonesia to The Philippines, before finally being resettled, probably in New Zealand.
The move comes less than a week after 13 of the Tamils were sent to Canada via a UN transit facility in Romania.
A Philippines official told The Australian talks concerning the Tamils were under way. “The UNHCR requested The Philippines to allow a 90-day transit for 16 Sri Lankan Tamils . . . with a view to the latter's onward resettlement in third countries,” the senior official said. “The request is under consideration.”
Sources say it is the tight deadlines laid out in the agreement the Rudd government struck with the Tamils that are driving their transfer to facilities in Romania and The Philippines. While all 78 have been declared refugees, individual countries need access to the Tamils to conduct health, security and background checks.
Australia's handling of the incident has bruised feelings in Jakarta, making local authorities considerably less co-operative.
The 78 were rescued by the Oceanic Viking in October and taken to the Indonesian island of Bintan. For one month they refused to leave the boat, sparking a political crisis for Kevin Rudd, already battling claims his softened refugee laws had triggered the present surge of asylum boats.
To end the impasse, Australia promised the Tamils resettlement in a third country within four to 12 weeks. The US, Canada, Norway and New Zealand have agreed to take some of them.
Yesterday, a source said the US would take about 20 Tamils, making it the most generous resettlement country outside Australia.
Opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison yesterday criticised the Prime Minister's handling of the affair: “It's burning up every favour Australia has to honour a special deal that should never have been provided in the first place.” Last night, a spokesman for Immigration Minister Chris Evans refused to say what, if any, talks with Manila were under way, saying the UN was dealing with arrangements.
Attorney-General Robert McClelland dismissed reports the government was secretly transferring asylum-seekers from Christmas Island to the mainland. He said the transfer this week of 30 unaccompanied minors to Melbourne was consistent with immigration practice. “From time to time, people are transferred to the mainland for different reasons, including vulnerable people such as unaccompanied minors, family groups and those who require specialist medical treatment.”
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