Australia seeks new regional partners to help process asylum seekers

April 02, 2013

Immigration minister Brendan O’Connor has revealed that Australia is searching for other countries in the region that are willing to detain and process asylum seekers on its behalf.

“Australia has agreements with Nauru and Papua New Guinea which have resulted in regional processing centres in those countries. Australia sees potential to engage other Bali Process members in the arrangements as they develop,” Mr O’Connor told hundreds of delegates from around the region at a conference in Bali on Tuesday.

Mr O’Connor did not say which countries he was interested in involving, but Asia-Pacific countries involved in the Bali Process include Brunei, Fiji, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and Tonga.

“Australia is working towards the goal of an integrated regional framework for the processing of asylum claims,” he said.

Mr O’Connor said the policy could be administered out of the Bangkok office, set up as part of the Bali Process.

Labor has already tried and failed to persuade East Timor — also a Bali Process participant — to take asylum seekers from Australia, and its attempt at a “Malaysia solution” was rejected by the High Court and then by the federal Parliament, despite the existence of a deal with Malaysia.

Earlier at the conference on Tuesday, Foreign Minister Bob Carr announced the Australian and Indonesian governments will revamp one of their joint counter-terrorism police agencies to help in the fight against people smuggling.

As the government revealed more than 1000 new asylum seekers had arrived at Christmas Island in the past week, Mr Carr described people smuggling and human trafficking as a “vile trade”.

The comments came as he opened the tenth year of talks in the Bali Process, which is aimed at slowing down people smuggling and human trafficking.

The Bali process involves countries that produce refugees (such as Afghanistan), countries through which they pass (such as Indonesia) and “destination countries” like Australia, to try to reduce the trade.

It focuses on both people smuggling, where the passengers are willing to travel, and also human trafficking, where they are unwilling.

But despite the efforts of the forum, Mr Carr said 2012 had seen “unprecedented migratory movements on all maritime routes in the Asia-Pacific region”.

The 44 member countries will agree on Tuesday that the Jakarta Centre for Law Enforcement Cooperation should become a part of the regional effort to stop the boats.

It is part of a wider effort to bolster police enforcement against people smugglers and human traffickers in what Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa described as “a massive deterrence message”.

The conference will also set out “policy guides” for member countries to create new laws to criminalise the trade in human beings.

The move to include the Jakarta Centre for Law Enforcement Cooperation is a change in the charter of an organisation set up between Australian and Indonesian police in 2004, two years after the first Bali bombing, with a strong focus on counter-terrorism.

The centre provides training programs and offers police support and expertise to other regional governments to fight trans-national crime.

Mr Carr said on Tuesday that “tapping into the expertise of JCLEC” would help improve their legal response to both people smuggling and human trafficking.

He said more than 700,000 people were trafficked in Asia every year, often into sexual or physical servitude.

Mr Carr will travel to Jakarta on Wednesday with Defence Minister Stephen Smith for the annual “2 + 2” dialogue between Australia and Indonesia.




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Filed under Asylum Policy, Australian Government and Opposition

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