Australia lifts bar on Sri Lankan asylum claims
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Last Updated: Tuesday, July 06, 2010, 12:01
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," Gillard said.

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).


First Published: Tuesday, July 06, 2010, 12:01

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