Australia enters negotiations to resettle asylum seekers

Australia begins talks with three southeast Asian countries to resettle asylum seekers who are currently detained in detention centres on Nauru and Manus Island

Photo by: AFP
Photo by: AFP

Members of the environmental group Greenpeace hold up a sign that reads "#LET THEM STAY" in front of the Opera House in Sydney on February 14, 2016.

Australia is in talks with Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines, among six nations, to resettle asylum seekers detained in Papua New Guinea and the Pacific island of Nauru, the Sydney Morning Herald (SMH) reported on Saturday.

The number of asylum seekers trying to reach Australia is small in comparison with those arriving in Europe, but border security is a hot-button political issue in Australia, which is scheduled to hold a national election later in the year.

Negotiations with the governments of the three Southeast Asian countries focus on potentially settling 1,459 detainees, said the SMH.

Many of the detainees reportedly arrived during previous administration of the Labor governments of Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard.

According to the newspaper three other countries are also involved in preliminary stages of talks, however, were not identified.

A spokeswoman for Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull declined to confirm or deny the report.

However, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop warned of setting high hopes over fresh negotiations to resettle asylum seekers living in Manus Island and Nauru too soon.

Bishop said in a statement that it was “early days” for the talks, and cited “domestic issues, like elections," for some countries.

The Philippines will hold elections in early May and Malaysia is currently battling with a corruption scandal Prime Minister Najib Razak was accused of being involved in but later had his name cleared after investigations.

Australia had previously entered negotiation talks with both countries before, but failed to reach a deal.

Australia's tough immigration policies provide that anyone intercepted while trying to reach the country by boat is sent for processing to camps in Nauru and Papua New Guinea's Manus Island. They are never eligible to be resettled in Australia.

In such cases where it is proven that asylum seekers are legitimate refugees, Australia often seeks for third countries to resettle them as they are in no situation to return home. However, past Australian efforts to resettle asylum seekers elsewhere ran into hurdles.

Last October, Philippine President Benigno Aquino said the country had "no capacity" to permanently relocate asylum seekers, adding that his government was "challenged to meet the needs of its own people right now".

Australia had offered $150 million spread over five years in exchange for permanent relocation of some refugees.

A deal struck with Cambodia was halted after only four asylum seekers were resettled.

In 2011, the Australian high court ruled invalid a deal with Malaysia, as it was not a signatory to the United Nations Convention on Refugees.

Australia has also received criticism from the United Nations and rights groups for its hardline policy.

Since 2012, people on boats trying to reach Australia have been turned back or taken to camps in Nauru -where there have been reports of assaults and systemic child abuse- or Papua New Guinea, where Canberra has set up processing centres.

The incident followed New Zealand's Prime Minister John Key offers to take 150 refugees staying in Nauru and Papua New Guinea.

Nauru revokes Australian, New Zealand visitor visas

Nauru imposed tight measures for Australians and New Zealanders applying for visitor visas after a journalist from the ABC news entered the country as a tourist without informing them about his link to the media, the SBS reported on Friday.

A spokesperson for ABC news denied allegations and said "There is no ABC News journalist on assignment in Nauru. ABC News journalists have applied through official channels for journalist visas to visit Nauru, not for tourist visas."

Nauru airlines will reportedly provide a full-refund for pre-bought tickets and the ban will remain until further notice.

The incident follows rising tension between the immigration department and doctors from a Queensland hospital who refuse to send one-year-old Australian born refugee baby “Asha” to Nauru detention.

Since last week, hundreds of people from across the country organised rallies to support the hospital's decision to let the baby stay until a "suitable home environment is identified."

TRTWorld and agencies