September 15, 2012
THE first asylum seekers to be processed offshore since 2008 appeared ”relaxed” as they went through the airport in Nauru, according to a Nauru government spokesman.
About 30 Sri Lankan men arrived on Nauru yesterday morning after being flown in from Christmas Island, off the Western Australian coast. The spokesman said they were taken to temporary tent housing where they were met by the Salvation Army, which is providing support services.
Immigration Minister Chris Bowen said the men were selected by his department for ”operational reasons” and implied the next groups may not all be men. ”I think you can expect to see a broad cross-section of people transferred to Nauru next week and in coming weeks,” he said.
Asked if that included children, Mr Bowen said: ”We are not going to provide loopholes for people to exploit.”
Past Australian government policy of being more sympathetic to the plight of unaccompanied children had led to higher numbers of youngsters being sent alone on boats to Australia.
Now the government is enforcing a ”no advantage” principle that says people who arrive in Australia by boat will not have an advantage over others waiting in refugee camps for resettlement.
The Nauru operations are expected to cost taxpayers about $1.4 billion over the next four years.
Mr Bowen said the first transfer went ”smoothly and without incident”. He said people’s length of stay would be on a ”case-by-case basis”.
Australian Human Rights Commission president Gillian Triggs has expressed ”serious concerns” about protections and access to legal advice.
”There is no information as to how prepared Nauru is to process the claims,” she said.
Opposition Leader Tony Abbott welcomed the first transfers, but said implementing the Nauru option had been a ”slow business”.