21 Jul 2013

Afghan asylum seekers not keen on PNG

1:41 pm on 21 July 2013

A group of Afghan asylum seekers in Indonesia say they will no longer travel to Australia by boat after discovering they would be resettled in Papua New Guinea.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd announced in Brisbane on Friday that asylum seekers arriving in Australia by boat will be processed in PNG and resettled there if they are found to be refugees.

Mr Rudd said the deal is aimed at stopping "the scourge of people smuggling".

Upon hearing the news that they could no longer claim asylum in Australia, some Afghan Hazaras waiting in the Puncak area of Indonesia told the ABC they would not make the journey to Australia.

Muhammad Asif, who spoke to the ABC via a translator, asked the Government to take pity on asylum seekers and said Australia should help fund the processing of their claims through the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

"He said: 'After I saw this, I will never go by boat. I'm decided to go join UNHCR'," the translator said.

The ABC reports the UNHCR office in Jakarta is underfunded and understaffed and has a backlog of more than 8000 claims.

Asylum seekers are told it can take two years to get refugee status.

Arrival numbers

Foreign Minister Bob Carr says asylum seekers are arriving by boat at a rate of 40,000 - 50,000 per year.

Senator Carr said on Sunday while he had been attacked for describing recent arrivals as economic migrants, many on the boats had actually confirmed they were not fleeing persecution.

He said on that basis they could not object to being resettled in PNG, a robust democracy with a free press and freedom of religion.

"The spike in the numbers of people being brought by people smugglers makes it unavoidable," he told Sky News.

"You have got 3000 people arriving a month. The annual rate is something like 40,000 to 50,000 a year if it continues at this level.

"If it continues at this level - the prime minister was very persuaded by this - it could rise further as people smugglers really close in to make a financial killing."

Senator Carr said refugee groups and the Greens failed to grasp that the nature of the problem had changed and required a bold solution.

He said the new policy was brutally honest in conveying the message that asylum seekers could pay a people smuggler $A10,000 and face great peril at sea, but they still would not be settled in Australia.

"The simple bold message is we decided where you are processed, we decided where you are settled and if you arrive by boat without a visa it is not going to be on Australian soil," he said.

$A200,000 bounty for people smugglers

The Australian government is to pay up to $A200,000 for information leading to the arrest of people smugglers.

"These people are peddling in misery and death (so) we are putting a bounty on their heads," the minister Home Affairs Minister Jason Clare told Fairfax Media.

"We need to shut this market down. We have taken the product they are selling off the shelves; we also need to lock these people up."

AAP reports the statement was made after an announcement by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd that all asylum seekers who come by boat will now be transferred to Papua New Guinea, where they will be processed and settled if found to be refugees.

Discomfort in Labor on asylum seekers

Climate change minister Mark Butler says there's a level of discomfort in Labor ranks on the prime minister's harsh asylum seeker policy.

However, Mr Butler said it was accepted that the boat people issue could not be allowed to continue on as it had been.

"There would be people within the Labor movement and the Labor party and the broader community who would feel uncomfortable with this," he told Sky News.

"In my discussions with some people over the last couple of days, although there is a level of discomfort about some aspects of this, there is also a very strong and clear recognition that something very different needs to be done."

AAP reports Mr Butler said the numbers arriving, the ruthlessness of people smugglers in endangering even very small children on leaky boats and the numbers (of people) being lost, indicated (the previous stance) could not continue.