SYDNEY — Asylum-seekers arriving by boat will no longer be resettled in Australia, but will go to Papua New Guinea, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has announced.
The news came as Rudd set out an overhaul of asylum policy ahead of a general election expected shortly.
Australia has seen a sharp rise in the number of asylum-seekers arriving by boat in recent months.
Following the news, rioting reportedly broke out at an asylum centre in Nauru. It was unclear if there was a link.
“Police have been called in to help with a major disturbance at the asylum seeker detention centre on Nauru,” the Australian Broadcasting Corporation reported.
The cause of the disturbance, involving 150 detainees, had not been established, ABC added.
Rudd had said the “hard-line decision” was taken to ensure border security. It was also aimed at dissuading people from making the dangerous journey to Australia by boat.
“Our country has had enough of people-smugglers exploiting asylum-seekers and seeing them drown on the high seas,” he said.
For its part, Papua New Guinea will receive generous aid and, in return, Rudd wants to be seen as the iron-fisted leader who can fortify Australia against the “scourge” of people smugglers and their sad cargo.
In a race for votes, it’s a hardline move designed to match, and even surpass, the conservative opposition’s promise to tow asylum-seeker boats back to Indonesia, where most set sail from.
Critics say Rudd “doesn’t have the courage or the moral authority to do the right thing by refugees”. For them, this is a “day of shame”.
A member of a trafficking gang in Indonesia has told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that the new measures will not stop a steady flow of authorised arrivals travelling by sea. The smuggler insists that there are too many desperate people fleeing death and persecution, and that Canberra’s attempts to stop them simply will not work.
The deal — called the Regional Settlement Arrangement — was signed by the Australian and PNG leaders today.
Rudd, who ousted Julia Gillard as Labour Party leader amid dismal polling figures last month, made the announcement in Brisbane flanked by PNG Prime Minister Peter O’Neill.
“From now on, any asylum-seeker who arrives in Australia by boat will have no chance of being settled in Australia as a refugee,” Rudd said.
Under the agreement, new arrivals will be sent to PNG — which is a signatory to the United Nations Refugees Convention — for assessment and settled there if found to be a refugee.
To accommodate the new arrivals, an offshore processing centre in PNG’s Manus island will be significantly expanded to hold up to 3,000 people. No cap has been placed on the number of people Australia can send to PNG, Rudd said. (BBC)