Jon Stanhope, Christmas Island’s outgoing administrator, says keeping children in detention ‘hard-hearted’

September 22, 2014 | ABC News

Jon Stanhope

Jon Stanhope

The indefinite detention of asylum seeker children in immigration detention centres has been labelled inappropriate and hard-hearted by the outgoing administrator of Christmas and Cocos islands, Jon Stanhope.

Mr Stanhope’s term ends at the beginning of October and he will be replaced by former West Australian Liberal MP Barry Haase.

Mr Stanhope, a former ACT chief minister, has been an outspoken critic of the asylum seeker policies of both Labor and Coalition federal governments.

He said asylum-seeker issues dominated his time on the remote Indian Ocean islands but a major concern for him has also been what he described as the lack of democratic institutions for the non-governing territories.

Mr Stanhope said 100 children were still being held in the asylum detention centre on Christmas Island, which is located 1,600 kilometres north-west of the Australian mainland.

These are the forgotten islands, the forgotten territories and to some extent the forgotten people of Australia, and that needs to change.

Jon Stanhope, outgoing administrator

“Here on Christmas Island we live in the midst of a group of children… who have have been in detention for over a year, and I don’t believe by any stretch of the imagination that that is appropriate,” he said.

“I think there has to be a better way and we need to find it.”

Mr Stanhope described the policy as “incredibly hard-hearted” and said it did not reflect how Australians thought of themselves.

“When you live here, and when you see it, and when you’re bumping into these children and you know little babies, little toddlers, confined by Australia in detention centres, behind fences and have been there for over a year, and the implications of that for them, their development and their welfare, raises very serious questions for we Australians,” he said.

Islands home to Australia’s ‘forgotten people’

Mr Stanhope also reflected on the services provided to the 2,500 residents of Christmas and Cocos islands, saying they were the “forgotten people”.

As non-governing territories, the residents vote at a federal level, but not a state level.

Services are provided on contract by the Western Australian Government.

Mr Stanhope said there were no aged-care services, no mental health, respite or in-home care services, and no consultation with residents as to what they wanted or needed.

“Services are imposed by the Commonwealth through a group of public servants that live primarily in Canberra and Perth and very rarely visit the place, and have no understanding of the needs and the nature of this particular community,” he said.

“I think the people of Christmas and Cocos islands are very much put upon.

“These are the forgotten islands, the forgotten territories and to some extent the forgotten people of Australia, and that needs to change.”

Mr Stanhope said he was not arguing for self-governance, but believed the residents of Christmas and Cocos islands must be consulted over services.

“I’m just arguing for democratic-style institutions and democratic process,” he said.

“The need to consult with people about the health service, the need to consult with people about the education service, and not just leave it up to public servants in Canberra and Perth.”

Detention centre no more significant than social club: Haase

The incoming administrator, who first visited Christmas Island as a soldier in 1965, said the immigration detention centre was one of several institutions on the island.

“The existence of the detention centre is no more significant than the existence of the local social club,” Mr Haase said.

Barry Haase and Tony Abbott, durack

“They are simply activities that occupy the space.

“One will have no greater significance to me as administrator than the other.”

Mr Haase flagged the island’s economy, which has historically relied on phosphate mining and the detention centre, as a primary area of concern.

He said tourism had also been a mainstay of the Indian Ocean territories, with Christmas Island in particular known for its red crab migration.

“How to improve the visitation numbers is something I’ll be hoping to involve myself in,” Mr Haase said.

A parliamentary committee has recommended Christmas Island’s casino, which closed in 1988, should re-open.

He said he would examine if that was something the local community wanted.

“If there was a casino on Christmas Island, who knows, maybe it will be something for us to work hard towards in the future,” he said.

“It depends on what the local population is interested in.”

Mr Stanhope now plans to return to Canberra and work in the community sector advocating for asylum seekers and refugees.


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Most know the boats have stopped, but asylum seekers keep coming to Jakarta

September 12, 2014 | The Age

Threatened: Mohammad Zaher Zafari and Shahista Dowoodi in the room they have rented after arriving in Jakarta to seek asylum.Threatened: Mohammad Zaher Zafari and Shahista Dowoodi in the room they have rented after arriving in Jakarta to seek asylum. Photo: Michael Bachelard

Jakarta: A year after Operation Sovereign Borders swung into action, and more than four months since Australia turned back its last boat to Indonesia, scores of people still arrive each week in Jakarta to plead for asylum.

Every morning they gather at the narrow, steel gate of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees to register their names and are confronted with a printed sign saying they will wait for a year at least.

Terrified: Hamid Ibrahimi, 15, who is sleeping on the streets as he seeks asylum at the UNHCR. Terrified: Hamid Ibrahimi, 15, who is sleeping on the streets as he seeks asylum at the UNHCR. Photo: Michael Bachelard

Most arrivals say they know before they leave their countries about Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s determination to stop the boats. “The way is closed,” as they put it, but still, at the rate of between 70 and 100 people each week, they come.

Across the road from the UNHCR office, on a blue-tiled step above a stinking drainage ditch, a group of eight young men from Afghanistan, the Palestinian Territories and Somalia are sleeping rough, unable to afford accommodation.

Ask Hadi Khododadi, 17, why he made the journey, and he looks at you as if it is obvious.

Dishonour: Mohammad Qadiri and Layla Ahmadi, who is pregnant, in the room they<br />
have rented after arriving in Jakarta to seek asylum at the UNHCR. ” />Dishonour: Mohammad Qadiri and Layla Ahmadi, who is pregnant, in the room they have rented after arriving in Jakarta to seek asylum at the UNHCR. <em>Photo: Michael Bachelard</em></p>
<p>An Afghan Hazara, he arrived in May from Iran, where he was brought up after his parents fled Afghanistan. Without papers in Tehran he had no life; he says he was unable to study or work, and was often harassed by authorities and threatened with imprisonment.</p>
<p>He believed he had no other choice but to leave, so his father went to a people smuggler. His smugglers had listened to Abbott and Immigration Minister Scott Morrison and did not mention boats.</p>
<p>“Every human smuggler now is talking about the UNHCR,” Khododadi says.</p>
<div class=Destitute: Hadi Khododadi, 17, (in red) among a group of asylum seekers on the Jakarta roadside step where they sleep.Destitute: Hadi Khododadi, 17, (in red) among a group of asylum seekers on the Jakarta roadside step where they sleep. Photo: Michael Bachelard

“They say if you reach Indonesia, the UNHCR can help you and can give you money; you can go quickly to Australia or another country … just one year here, you can reach Australia legally.”

For most, that is a lie. The process is usually much longer – two to three years is standard – and the UNHCR provides no financial support. Asylum seekers cannot work in Indonesia or go to school and there is little access to other welfare organisations. Church World Service helps underage people but it has just 40 beds in Jakarta and they are full.

UNHCR figures show 5564 people are in Indonesia seeking asylum, and 3983 more have already been found to be refugees but do not have a resettlement place. Even though thousands have gone home, particularly to Iran, since Operation Sovereign Borders began, the total is kept high by the stream of new arrivals. Most are from Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan and Somalia.

Delays: The sign on the gate at the UNHCR building in Jakarta warns the waiting time for a refugee determination is more than a year. Delays: The sign on the gate at the UNHCR building in Jakarta warns the waiting time for a refugee determination is more than a year. Photo: Michael Bachelard

People are dismayed Australia’s intake of refugees will drop again, as the Government says of its 13,750 refugee places, 4400 will be prioritised for victims of the conflict in Iraq and Syria. To these people, it suggests an even longer wait.

Khododadi has no money so, plagued by hunger, rain and mosquitoes, he tries to sleep by the side of the road. The property owners, a sympathetic Indonesian couple, feed him and his friends a rudimentary diet, but everything else – toilets and showers – cost.

It’s also dangerous. As we talk, Salim al-Zaalam, 46, another of the ravaged crew living on the step, stops to bellow at us about his troubles. He’s virtually blind, a situation caused, he says, by a beating from an Indonesian gang as he slept in the street. It’s hard to know what to believe; he also says British and US spies are pursuing him. Friends say during the 18 months he’s spent in Indonesia, Mr Zalaam’s body and mind have both deteriorated.

Hamid Ibrahimi is only 15 and terrified. He, too, is an Afghan Hazara who was living with his parents in Iran. Since he arrived penniless in Indonesia two months ago, he’s been sleeping on the roadside opposite the Church World Service office, also surviving on the charity of Indonesians.

His agent in Tehran insisted he could still go by boat to Australia if he found a smuggler in Indonesia.

“I thought if the way was open, I’ll go by boat,” he says. “If it’s closed I’ll stay. Now I understand that it will take years. What should I do? I am alone. No one looks after me. I am scared about what to do.”

Not only young men are making the journey.

Mohammad Qadiri and his lover Layla Ahmadi arrived two weeks ago and spent their first night in a park. They have temporarily rented a tiny room in an alley 10 minutes from the UNHCR office for $13 a night, but won’t be able to afford it for long. They have only $200 left.

The couple is unmarried and she is carrying his child, an offence that put their lives at risk in their home province of Parwan, Afghanistan.

“Her family wanted to kill me … they will throw stones at us, that is the danger,” Qadiri says.

They say they had no other option but to leave, via India and Malaysia, for Indonesia.

Ahmadi is sick, exhausted from the boat ride from Malaysia and the subsequent 24-hour drive from the landing place in Sumatra to Jakarta. She keeps clutching her belly and lying down. But they have a touching faith in the goodwill of Australians.

“Please, send our story to the Australian people and the Australian government so they can help us. If we have to stay here, five, four, three years, what should we do? I don’t have any more money.”

Mohammad Zaher Zafari and his wife Shahista Dowoodi are also running from potential honour killing. They are married, but a local political leader in Daykundi province also wanted to marry Dowoodi, 23, and so threatened to kill her husband.

Twice the politician and his cronies attacked Zafari with a knife, the first time on the night of the wedding. He lifts his shirt to show the scars. In a second attack the gang slashed him again and stole the taxi that provided his income. A bullet fired during that attack glanced off a rock and grazed the side of his head.

His people smuggler in Afghanistan simply promised a trip to Indonesia to wait in the UNHCR queue, but gave no indication of how long it would take.

“I can stay with my own money just for 15 to 20 days and then I’ll have to go to a detention centre,” Zafari says. Others have already sought out detention as their only way to survive.

Abbott and Morrison may have stopped the boats, but they cannot stop the world’s misery, nor how some people come to see no option but flight.

“We had to do this,” says Dowoodi glumly. “We didn’t have any other way.”



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Shrinking asylum space for Pakistan’s Hazaras

September 12, 2014 | Al Jazeera

Australia’s tough policies have not stopped Pakistan’s asylum seekers from making the journey in search of a new life.

More than 80,000 Hazaras have fled Pakistan, and Australia was a popular destination until 2013 [Reuters]
Zakir Hussain and Syed Jawad Hussain, not related to each other, were on their way to the graveyard during Eid in August when motorcyclists shot them at point-blank range in Quetta, the capital of Pakistan’s Balochistan province, killing them instantly.

A police investigation was launched but no one has yet been arrested despite the perpetrators claiming responsibility for the attack. The government has failed to stop attacks on the minority Shia Hazaras, over 1,000 of whom have been killed in the last decade.

As news of the killings reached Dawood – now based in Australia – he was overcome with a familiar sense of guilt that engulfs him every time a Hazara life is cut short in the town that he fled in 2012.

In a phone interview with Al Jazeera from western Australia, Dawood recalled the first time he felt this way – at the detention centre in the Australian territory of Christmas Island – when he called his home and could hear people crying.

His wife told him: “It’s just some guests,” but he had been to too many funerals and knew better.

He scanned Hazara social media pages and saw photos of dead Shia pilgrims who had been attacked by the banned armed group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi.

I called home again and when they told that me my chacha [uncle] was among the dead, I hated myself. I was so angry with myself for choosing this [refugee] life. I wish it had been him on the boat to Australia and me on the bus [that was attacked].

- Dawood, Pakistani Hazara refugee in Australia

“I called home again and when they told that my chacha [uncle] was among the dead, I hated myself,” Dawood told Al Jazeera.

“I was so angry with myself for choosing this [refugee] life. I wish it had been him on the boat to Australia and me on the bus [that was attacked].”

More than 80,000 Hazaras have fled Pakistan in the past decade and while Sri Lanka, Europe, and North America are options, activists say Australia was the most popular destination until 2013.

According to a recent Human Rights Watch report, “We Are the Walking Dead,” the Hazara community in Pakistan is estimated to be around 500,000.

Had Dawood not taken the stinking, overloaded boat to Christmas Island, he would not have been able to pursue his dream of becoming an engineer.

“I had just finished high school and was ready to enrol at a local university when my father stopped me as the security situation in Quetta had worsened.”

Coming from an educated middle class family, it was not easy for Dawood to give up so he applied to universities in Australia, confident that good grades would secure him a place.

However, the Australian High Commission rejected his visa application which, he said, left him with no choice but to “take the illegal route”.

People smugglers

Several groups of “people smugglers” operate networks across Asia, and Dawood used one based in Quetta to make his journey.

Handing over a fortune to fixers and airport officials, refugees travel across the Southeast Asia via sea and air.

Reaching Indonesia is the first hurdle, where sources in the capital, Jakarta, told Al Jazeera that there are almost 2,500 Pakistani asylum seekers – over 75 percent of whom are Shia Hazaras.

Refugees register with the UN refugee agency (UNHCR), and those seeking shelter are cared for by aid agencies while others such as Dawood – who had already paid $11,500 to the smugglers – find temporary accommodation.

Four months later, in September 2012, Dawood left Bogor on the Indonesian island of Java, in the middle of the night with 140 others for the journey by sea that has claimed at least 1,500 lives in the last decade.

Ali – who witnessed countless attacks on Hazaras – fled Pakistan for a similar reason. He was forced to change his route to work every day until he gave up last year, closed his jewellery business in Quetta, left his house and took his family to Indonesia in 2010.

“Our enemies can pick us out [on the basis of distinct physical features],” Ali, who requested only his first name be used, told Al Jazeera from Jakarta.

“We can’t tell which motorcyclist has a gun, who among the crowd is a suicide bomber, or where our vehicles will be blown into pieces.”

Anti-immigration campaign

Such desperate attempts to reach Australia came to an abrupt halt last year after Tony Abbott, the Australian prime minister, launched “Operation Sovereign Borders”.

After winning the elections on the back of a strong anti-immigration campaign, Abbott was quick to seal his country’s borders to immigrants arriving by the sea.

Find out more with our exclusive interactive feature

Stories of boats being turned back close to Christmas Island, Australian navy officials torturing asylum seekers, and the government offering cash incentives to those in detention centres to return home quickly brought the boat journeys to a stop.

Hussain, who arrived in Australia before the operation was launched, had been on the verge of obtaining a permanent visa when he was again put behind the electrified barbed wire of the Curtin Detention Centre on the mainland.

A former trader at the Quetta Liaquat Bazar, he had confronted the daily threat of death before fleeing Pakistan.

The clampdown has plunged him into uncertainty that will continue until Australia’s government decides what to do with him – and thousands like him.

Criticism from refugee agencies, including the UNHCR, has done little to move ministers even though Australia is a signatory to the UN refugee convention.

Immigration Minister Scott Morrison has defended the controversial programme, and his office refused Al Jazeera’s request for a comment on why his government is closing its borders on a persecuted community.

Stress of uncertainty

While the policy may not be deterring Pakistanis from seeking asylum, many languish in a state of limbo as they await a decision on their cases.

Once registered with the UNHCR, individuals spend months in aid centres awaiting progress, where some suffer mental illness amid the stress of uncertainty.

“Australia refusing refugees arriving by sea has not reduced the number of people fleeing Pakistan,” Ali said. Six months on, his family’s future remains undetermined.

“People are still coming, hoping that UNHCR will help them find a new home.”

Dawood did manage to live his dream and study engineering, but he was attacked while he was on a vacation in Pakistan in 2013.

He had travelled home to see his family, and a week before returning to Perth gunmen shot at him on his way to market, paralysing one arm.

Meanwhile, a recent online anti-immigration campaign in Australia leaves asylum seekers such as him in no doubt that they are not welcome in their adopted home either.

It might not carry the same threat as Lashkar-e-Jhangvi’s anti-Shia literature, but the message to this shrinking community is clear: They have no place left to call home


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Asylum seeker can apply for permanent protection visa, high court rules

September 11, 2014

Judges say asylum seeker who accepted a temporary visa could not be barred from applying for a permanent one.

Scott morrison
Scott Morrison said he was talking to crossbenchers about passing temporary protection visas. Photograph: Stefan Postles/AAP

The high court has dealt another blow to the federal government’s plans to give asylum seekers temporary protection visas (TPVs), ruling an earlier move to force asylum seekers on to temporary visas was invalid.

In a joint unanimous decision the high court ruled on Thursday that an asylum seeker who had been in detention for two years and accepted a temporary humanitarian concern visa – a type of of temporary visa employed by the government earlier in 2014 – could not be precluded from making an application for a permanent protection visa.

Asylum seeker casework organisations began receiving mass refusals of permanent protection visa applications in February and many of their clients were “invited” to accept temporary humanitarian concern protection visas in what was described as a back-door reintroduction of temporary protection visas.

The Senate voted to disallow the regulation that permitted the use of the visas in May, but in the three months that the regulation was in force, many asylum seekers were placed on the visas. The high court decision relates to one of those asylum seekers.

The high court’s release on the decision said: “The high court unanimously held invalid the grant by the minister for immigration and border protection of a temporary safe haven visa to the plaintiff which had the effect of precluding the plaintiff making a valid application for a protection visa, in circumstances where the plaintiff’s detention had been prolonged for the purpose of the minister considering the exercise of power to allow the plaintiff to make a valid application for a visa of his choice.”

The executive director of the Refugee and Immigration Legal Centre, David Manne, welcomed the decision.

“It is significant because the high court has found yet another attempt by government to block people being given permanent protection and circumvent parliament is unlawful,” he said.

But Manne cautioned that the further ramifications of the decision remained unclear as the government attempted to negotiate with crossbench senators over the introduction of TPVs through parliament.

The decision follows a possible U-turn on offshore transfers announced in a speech by the immigration minister, Scott Morrison, on Wednesday, in which he indicated the Coalition would consider granting temporary protection visas to some asylum seekers who arrived between 19 July and 31 December 2013 and had not already been transferred for offshore resettlement.

The government has been attempting to secure the support of crossbenchers to reintroduce a temporary protection visa bill or regulation.

When asked about the possible changes signalled in his speech, Morrison told ABC AM on Thursday: “What we are talking about with the crossbench is those who arrived last year and none of those would be given a permanent visa in Australia either. No permanent resettlement in Australia either.”

“So, I think they are very clear measures but we have to work with the Senate that we have and if we have to make some changes to get TPVs in then that’s what we are talking to them about.”

Detention centre sources on Nauru have told Guardian Australia that news of Morrison’s possible U-turn filtered through to asylum seekers on Wednesday evening.

“The whole camp is talking about it,” a source said, adding that asylum seekers, including family groups, misinterpreted the potential U-turn as applying to them. “Last night the mood was quite elated.”

The source said centre workers were now having to explain that the announcement only applied to those on Christmas Island and had been warned that adverse reactions to the news could be expected.

Water supplies continue to dwindle in the detention centres on the island.

Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young reiterated that the Greens would not support the introduction of temporary protection visas.

“Offshore processing has collapsed and the Greens won’t be bullied into backing the government’s cruel and punitive temporary protection visas,” she said.

“It’s entirely inappropriate of the immigration minister to hold children in detention to ransom so that he can get TPVs through the Senate. The parliament has rejected TPVs and today the high court has ruled that the immigration minister’s use of two other types of temporary visas is unlawful.”

Katie Wrigley, principal solicitor of the Refugee Advice and Casework Service (RACS), welcomed the high court decision.

“This case has a positive effect for those who were issued with or offered these visas. RACS continues to oppose grants of temporary visas, including grants of temporary safe haven visas,” she said.

“The clients that are affected by this case have spent incredibly long times in detention in Australia, and RACS supports a process that is efficient and that will allow them to be considered for permanent protection.”


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Immigration Minister Scott Morrison says PNG refugee resettlement program faces ‘difficult and frustrating problems’

September 11, 2014

Immigration Minister Scott Morrison says there are still major problems with the refugee resettlement arrangements in Papua New Guinea.

PNG authorities have begun assessing the asylum seekers on Manus Island to determine their refugee status but so far, no one has been resettled into the community.

Mr Morrison said the former Labor government ignored the political and practical difficulties of resettling refugees in PNG when it reopened the centre in November 2012.

“Offshore processing and resettlement has been implemented. However, this has not been without challenges,” he said in a National Press Club address on Wednesday.

“There remain difficult and frustrating problems with Papua New Guinea in relation to the resettlement program there.

“Kevin Rudd and Tony Burke signed over $430 million in taxpayers’ funds in additional aid and infrastructure to the PNG government as part of what I described as a panicked announcement before the last election.

“And in return, there was a blank sheet of paper.”

Mr Morrison acknowledged Reza Berati’s death at the Manus Island detention centre in February as a “terrible tragedy”.

The minister said he was “also terribly saddened” by the death last week of Hamid Kehazaei, who cut his foot and developed septicaemia at the Manus facility and died due to complications.

“Where there are issues that need to be addressed at the processing centres this government has taken action to support the PNG and Nauruan governments who run these centres.

“The resettlement plan has now been before the PNG cabinet for several months following the extensive consultations conducted by their expert panel led by Dame Carol Kidu.

“It is important that this now proceed.”

More than 1,080 asylum seekers are being detained at the regional processing centre on Manus Island.

Eighty-four assessments have been undertaken in PNG, and more than 600 have commenced the formal assessment process, according to the Government.

“We remain committed to working through the remaining issues with the government of PNG to ensure that the agreement delivers the resettlement of refugees in PNG in return for the increased aid and infrastructure funding that is being delivered,” he said.


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New UN human rights chief criticises Australia’s asylum seeker policy, Scott Morrison rejects allegations

September 11, 2014

Jordan's Prince Zeid Ra'ad Zeid al Hussein

Jordan’s Prince Zeid Ra’ad Zeid al Hussein

A senior United Nations official has criticised Australia’s asylum seeker policy, saying it has lead to a “chain of human rights violations”.

The incoming UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Jordan’s Zeid Ra’ad al Hussein, singled out human rights violations in Syria, Iraq and Gaza in his first speech to the UN Human Rights Council in Switzerland.

But he also went out of his way to criticise Australian policies of offshore processing and turning back the boats.

“Australia’s policy of offshore processing for asylum seekers arriving by sea, and its interception and turning back of vessels, is leading to a chain of human rights violations, including arbitrary detention and possible torture following return to home countries,” he said.

Mr Hussein said he did not support mandatory detention of asylum seekers in any country, including Australia.

“I must emphasise that the detention of asylum seekers and migrants should only be applied as a last resort, in exceptional circumstances, for the shortest possible duration and according to procedural safeguards,” he said.

He warned Australia’s policy of turning back the boats could lead to resettling migrants in countries not equipped to deal with them.

Immigration Minister Scott Morrison rejected the allegations and said Australia was willing to discuss the matters with the UN’s refugee agency.

Daniel Webb from Australia’s Human Rights Law Centre said the speech “… really shows the seriousness with which Australia’s breeches of refugees rights are being regarded on the world stage”.

“Our Immigration Minister and our Prime Minister consistently front the media and say that everything they do is consistent with international human rights law,” he said.

“Well, they are wrong, and the UN’s most senior human rights expert has told them so in his maiden speech to the UN Human Rights Council.

Mr Webb said the message was that Australia could not dodge its responsibilities.

“Australia’s fundamental obligation under the Refugee Convention and under other human rights treaties is not to return people to a place where they will face human rights violations,” he said.

“The only way to make sure we comply with that obligation is to properly and fairly assess asylum seekers’ protection claims.

“We can’t do that if we just intercept a boat in the middle of the ocean and similarly return everyone on it back to the very place from which they fled.”


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Scott Morrison proposes releasing asylum seekers onto Australian mainland under TPV plan

September 11, 2014

Asylum seekers who arrived by boat last year could be offered temporary protection visas and allowed to live in the Australian mainland community, in a major policy backflip by the Abbott government.

The shift could signal a disintegration in the offshore processing policy that the government has vehemently defended, but now concedes has its “challenges”.

Until now, asylum seekers who arrived after July 19, 2013, were subject to offshore processing after a policy change by the Rudd Labor government, which meant they would be processed in centres on Nauru and Manus Island.

Onshore option: Immigration Minister Scott Morrison on Wednesday.Onshore option: Immigration Minister Scott Morrison on Wednesday. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

The policy was adopted by the Coalition and Immigration Minister Scott Morrison has consistently maintained asylum seekers who arrive by boat after July 19 would be subject to offshore processing.

In November, Mr Morrison said: “I want to stress all those on Christmas Island who are there now – those who arrived after July 19 will be going to Nauru or Manus Island. There will be no exceptions, whether you’re Syrian, Iranian, single, married, adult, child, they will all be going to Nauru or Manus Island and will not return to live in Australia.”

But the minister told an audience at the National Press Club that the government was now looking at TPVs as an “alternative” option for the 2700 people, including 450 children, who arrived by boat and many of whom are being held on Christmas Island. He is currently negotiating with crossbenchers in the new Senate to reintroduce TPVs after Labor and the Greens twice blocked the controversial measure that prevents refugees from gaining permanent residence in Australia.

“Now while it will continue to be the policy of the government that anyone who arrives illegally by boat will be transferred to offshore processing … the government is open to alternatives for the earlier July 19 to December 31 caseload, but not those who may arrive now or who have already been transferred,” Mr Morrison said in the speech.

“Combined with other measures, TPVs will also give the government an alternative option for those who arrived after July 19 and before the end of last year, including over 450 children. Seventy five per cent of this group, including children, turned up under the previous government and had not been transferred to offshore processing centres.”

Until now, only asylum seekers who arrived before July 19 have been considered eligible for TPVs, if such a measure is reintroduced.

Mr Morrison told Fairfax Media on Wednesday it was no secret he was in negotiations with the crossbenchers, including Clive Palmer, to allow the use of TPVs.

The policy change would not affect any boats that arrived this year. The only asylum seekers travelling by boat who reached Australian shores this year arrived in July. All 157 asylum seekers have since been transferred to Nauru.

Mr Morrison acknowledged that the processing on Papua New Guinea was “challenging”.

“Offshore processing and resettlement has also been implemented. However, this has not been without its challenges,” he said.

Until now, not one asylum seeker has been resettled in the country. There are 1084 asylum seekers being detained on Manus Island.

He also said negotiations with Cambodia, which the government hopes will resettle refugees, were ongoing.

Opposition immigration spokesman Richard Marles said: “It is clear that the Minister is seeking to use Temporary Protection Visas as a band aid to hide his failure in managing the Regional Resettlement Arrangement with Papua New Guinea.”

Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young said on Wednesday the government’s offshore policy was “falling apart”.

“Dumping the government’s commitment to offshore processing like this is a major policy backflip from the Coalition on the back of a serious policy failure,” she said.

“The Abbott government has conceded that it has to process these people’s claims in Australia and is simply using TPVs as a distraction.”


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