Salvos to the rescue for Australia’s asylum seekers
As asylum seeker boats continue to bombard the Aussie coastline, the federal government have reopened avenues to have refugees processed outside Australia, on the tiny Pacific island of Nauru.
THE first phase of federal Labor’s policy to transfer people from Christmas Island off Western Australia to centres on Nauru and Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island will be under way by the end of the week.
And Australia’s politicians are debating that the move couldn’t come at a better time, as the number of asylum seeker boats heading to Australia continues to rise.
After Australian authorities on Monday intercepted the third boat in just 24 hours, Immigration minister Chris Bowen signed documents designating Nauru as a regional processing country under the Migration Act, ahead of introducing special legislation in parliament.
The documents sit alongside an updated memorandum of understanding agreed with PNG on the weekend to reopen Manus Island.
If a special legislative instrument gets past the Senate on Wednesday as expected, the first asylum seekers will be on their way to Nauru by Friday.
“The governments of Australia and Nauru have been working towards a transfer to occur in the latter part of this week,” Mr Bowen told reporters in Canberra.
The federal opposition immediately proposed amendments in the lower house, calling on Labor to adopt its policy of immediately reintroducing temporary protection visas for refugees and turning back asylum seeker boats where it’s safe to do so.
The Greens again called on the government to limit processing periods on the islands to a year.
Greens deputy leader Adam Bandt said it was extraordinary that the parliament was being asked to approve sending refugees to another country to be locked up indefinitely.
‘’We know the government wants to, and has, adopted John Howard’s migration policy. Are they now going to be responsible for the enormous amount of suffering that people will incur when they are detained indefinitely?’’ Mr Bandt said.
He said it was worrying that the government was outsourcing the facility to a private company.
The Greens have urged the federal government to set up an independent expert panel to protect the mental and physical well-being of asylum seekers sent to Nauru and Manus Island.
Meanwhile, details of the arrangements with Nauru show children and unaccompanied minors will either go to local schools or receive schooling from education contractors.Training courses will be offered to adults and Nauruans by the Salvation Army, which will also have responsibility for asylum seeker support services, including counselling, pastoral care and recreation programs.
Mr Bowen said the Christian church group would not be there to “proselytise” and there would be provisions for worship for asylum seekers, many of whom are Muslim.
“I have full confidence in the Salvation Army’s ability to provide services without fear or favour to religious background,” the minister said.
While the Salvos remain concerned about the potential impact of offshore processing on the wellbeing and mental health of asylum seekers, they said the primary focus was to provide the best care.
The church already offers housing and chaplaincy support services to asylum seekers at detention centres in Australia.
About 2000 potential refugees have arrived in Australia by boat since Labor announced in mid-August plans to reopen the processing centres.
The government wants to deter asylum seekers from making dangerous sea journeys to Australia, following a serious of boat sinkings and drownings.
It hopes to fly 500 asylum seekers to the Pacific Island nation of Nauru by the end of September.
Under the act, immigration department officials are obliged to move offshore anyone who arrives by boat unless instructed otherwise by the minister or his delegate on “public interest grounds”.
But Opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison said from today “any person who turns up on a boat must go to Nauru – no exceptions”.
Mr Bowen did not say whether women and children could be included in the first transfers.
Meanwhile, the government is taking a “step-by-step” approach to reopening Manus Island and 30 defence personnel and two immigration officials will head there in coming days. – With AAP
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