Melbourne: Australia`s new Prime Minister
Julia Gillard on Tuesday lifted a ban on processing claims of Sri
Lankan asylum seekers, and said her government would also
review a bar on Afghans seeking refuge.
"The Government has decided to lift immediately the
suspension of processing claims for Sri Lankans," with effect
from Thursday, Gillard said.
Spelling out her new asylum policy, she said so far
this year more than 60 per cent of all asylum seekers arriving
by boat had come from Afghanistan.
She said there was a time when a large number of
Afghans were granted refugee status but since April more than
500 had been refused the same and "during the past month the
primary refusal rate has exceeded 70 per cent".
Gillard said she was not immediately ending the halt
in processing of Afghan asylum seekers but would keep that
under review in coming weeks and months.
"If upheld at review these increasing rates of refusal
will result in many more people being returned to their
homelands" she said.
The issue of refugees has become a flashpoint ahead of
the upcoming elections and Australia`s opposition leader Tony
Abbott has promised strict measures to curb illegal arrivals
if elected to power.
Lifting a three-month halt on Sri Lankan asylum
claims, which was strongly criticised by the UN, Gillard also
proposed the establishment of a new regional processing centre
in East Timor.
She said the government would work closely with the
government of Afghanistan on a range of migration issues
including implementing arrangements for the return of Afghans
not found to be refugees.
"This process is essential for the integrity of our
migration programme and it`s important for sending a clear
message of deterrence to people smugglers and their clients
that they cannot buy their way into Australia," she said.
She said a new framework for "orderly migration" in
the region would take time.
She said she would pursue relentlessly a regional
solution with the participation of the UNHCR could prevent the
piling up of unauthorised arrivals in detention in Australia.
Gillard said last year Australia received 0.6 per cent
of the world`s asylum seekers and refugees made up less than
eight per cent of migrants accepted into the country.
"This is a fraction of our annual migration intake,"
The new prime minister also stressed that it was
mainly push factors - rather than pull factors - that drove
people to flee their own countries.
"We should be prepared to accept people in legitimate
need," Gillard said, but maintained that if elected her party
would seek to increase penalties for people smuggling.
The Prime Minister last evening met colleagues at a
Federal Cabinet meeting to discuss Labor`s election strategy,
including a new and tougher stance on border protection.
Gillard said she had already spoken to East Timorese
President Jose Ramos-Horta and New Zealand Prime Minister John
Key over the proposal setting up a regional processing centre
for asylum seekers in East Timor.
"It would be to ensure that arriving by boat does not
give anybody an advantage in the likelihood that they would
end up settling in Australia or other countries in the
region," she said.
"The purpose would be to ensure that people smugglers
have no product to sell".
Gillard said she had also discussed the matter with
the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).