Australian PM mum on `Pacific Solution` for refugees

Under "Pacific Solution", asylum seekers were sent to poor island nations.

Last Updated: May 06, 2011, 15:07 PM IST

Sydney: Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard refused to rule out reviving the controversial "Pacific Solution" for refugees, under which asylum seekers were sent to poor island nations.

Gillard on Friday said her ministers were pursuing discussions on a regional solution, but would not comment on whether her administration wanted to reopen Papua New Guinea`s mothballed Manus Island centre to asylum seekers.

"When I`ve got something to announce arising from those discussions then I`ll announce it," she told reporters in South Australia.

The Prime Minister said that people-smuggling was a complex problem and Australia was engaged in discussions across the region.

"We need a regional solution," she said. "We need to be engaged with international agencies like the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. We have been doing that work."

Refugees face mandatory detention in Australia as they await their visas, and immigration centres are increasingly overcrowded, prompting recent violent unrest and reports of suicides in the often remote units.

Reports on Friday citing sources in northern neighbour Papua New Guinea suggest that an agreement on reviving the former government`s "Pacific Solution" -- under which refugees were sent to remote islands for processing -- is close.

"At the moment, the matter is still under consideration, at least from our side," impoverished PNG`s Foreign Ministry Secretary Michael Maue told The Australian newspaper. "It is a matter that is with our political leaders now."

Australian and Papua New Guinean officials flew to Manus Island on Thursday to inspect facilities, telling local leaders that a regional processing centre would be built there, the ABC reported.

Under the "Pacific Solution", boat people were processed on Manus Island or the tiny island nation of Nauru in Australian-funded detention centres, but many languished on these remote outposts for years.

The Labor government pointedly abandoned the "Pacific solution" soon after taking power in 2007, but has since struggled to stem the tide of boat people, many of whom come from Sri Lanka, Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan, often on leaky boats from Indonesia.

The vast majority of boat people arriving in Australia are already processed offshore at Christmas Island, a tiny speck in the Indian Ocean, but the centre is at capacity.

Gillard`s suggestion that a regional processing centre be established in East Timor has been coldly received in Dili.

Conservative opposition leader Tony Abbott said that reopening Manus Island would not stop asylum seekers from travelling to Australia, and again urged the government to consider reopening the Nauru facility.

Amnesty International said reviving any "Pacific Solution" would send a bad example to the region.

"This was a failed policy that was internationally condemned for breaching the human rights of some of the world`s most vulnerable people," refugee spokesman Graham Thom said.

"Tragically, the government that once eradicated the Pacific Solution now appears to be reviving it."

Bureau Report