August 23, 2012
AUSTRALIA will resettle an extra 6000 refugees every year in the biggest increase in the country’s humanitarian program in 30 years.
The federal government has confirmed it will boost the refugee intake from 13,750 to 20,000 this financial year at a cost to the budget of $150 million.
The permanent annual boost will cost $1.3 billion over the next four years and will focus on helping people from trouble spots in the Middle East, Africa and Asia.
Immigration Minister Chris Bowen said he was proud of the boost, which he has long advocated.
“It will mean that Australia becomes the second largest source of resettlement for UNHCR-referred refugees in the world, after only the United States,” he said.
The increase was a key recommendation of former defence chief Angus Houston’s expert panel, which helped break a parliamentary deadlock on asylum policy last week.
The boost is designed in part to encourage asylum seekers to wait wherever they are for resettlement rather than risking dangerous boat journeys to Australia.
The government will resettle an additional 400 refugees from Indonesia as an immediate priority.
Opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison was quick to criticise the intake increase.
“The decision to spend another $1.3 billion on taking more refugees follows existing budget blowouts on Labor’s failed asylum policies of $4.7 billion,” he said.
Mr Houston’s panel also recommended the government urgently restart offshore processing of asylum seekers who arrive by boat on Nauru and Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island.
Parliament last week passed legislation giving the government the power to nominate third countries as offshore processing destinations.
But the coalition has criticised Mr Bowen for failing to introduce the necessary regulatory instruments that would allow processing on Nauru and Manus to proceed.
That means the government will not be able to start sending asylum seekers offshore until after parliament resumes in the second week of September.
Mr Bowen says he wants to wait until after the agreements with the two countries are finalised, at least in part to minimise the risks of legal challenge.
But work to get the islands’ facilities ready is continuing. Defence personnel will be deploying to Nauru over the coming days and weeks to start setting up temporary accommodation.
Mr Bowen believes the island will be ready to take 500 asylum seekers by the end of September.
Nauru will be able to house 1500 people when it is fully operational. Facilities on Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island will house 600 people.
The Australian Greens, refugee advocates and migration organisations welcomed the humanitarian intake increase.