Time Limit Set For Dili Asylum Site

Time limit agreed for Dili asylum site

By Paul Maley
The Australian, October 14, 2010

Australia has agreed to a key condition laid down by East Timor in its negotiations over a refugee processing centre.

Asylum-seekers would spend a maximum of three years in the facility.

As Immigration Minister Chris Bowen continued his negotiations in Jakarta, Indonesia's Immigration Department director Hussein Alaydrus rejected opening a centre similar to the one under discussion for Timor.

'We won't have it here,' Mr Alaydrus told The Australian, citing Galang island, where thousands of refugees were held for almost 20 years. '

The comments followed Mr Bowen's remarks on Tuesday that the government's 'Timor solution' could necessitate the construction of several centres across the region, if Dili were unable to cope with the load alone.

Speaking in Jakarta, Mr Bowen acknowledged there were concerns a processing centre could act as a magnet for asylum-seekers, although this had not been raised in his meetings with Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natelegawa and Justice Minister Patrialis Akbar.

Mr Bowen agreed to the condition from East Timorese President Jose Ramos-Horta that asylum-seekers could not be held indefinitely.

'He wouldn't want anybody in the centre for three years or more, and I would certainly agree with that,' he said.

The time cap may mean Australia would need to offer a guarantee to resettle insoluble cases.

In his meetings with Dr Ramos-Horta in Dili on Tuesday, Mr Bowen agreed that any processing centre would need to be an open facility.

Speaking after yesterday's talks, Indonesia's Immigration Department spokesman Maroloan Barimbing said while there was a need to speed up the processing of refugees, it was a double-edged sword. 'At this moment, even people who are registered as refugees take years to be resettled. We talk about make it faster,' he said.

'Too long they stay here, they started to be so bored they try to escape, but also not too fast, because if it's too fast people will start to come because they think it will be easy in Indonesia.'

He said Indonesia was preparing to construct what would be the country's second-largest detention centre and upgrade several others. Funding would be delivered through the International Organisation for Migration, which includes Australia.

Mr Bowen's meetings yesterday coincided with the arrival of an asylum boat — the fifth in as many days. Authorities stopped the boat, carrying 57 passengers and two crew, north of Christmas Island yesterday morning.