SYDNEY, Australia (UPDATED) – Australian Immigration Minister Scott Morrison Wednesday, November 18, said he was “taking the sugar off the table” in announcing that Canberra was slamming the door on UN-registered asylum-seekers in Indonesia.
Morrison said that from July next year asylum-seekers officially recognized by the United Nations refugee agency in Jakarta would no longer be eligible for resettlement in Australia.
The move, he said, was part of the government’s work to “strip people-smugglers of a product to sell to vulnerable men, women and children” and stop Indonesia being used as a transit lounge.
“We’re taking the sugar off the table. That’s what we’re doing,” he told ABC radio.
“We’re trying to stop people thinking that it’s OK to come into Indonesia and use that as a waiting ground to get to Australia.”
The giant northern neighbor is not a refugee generating country, but has become a key magnet for others seeking to reach Australia, often through treacherous boat journeys that have left hundreds dead.
Since the government came to power last year, its hardline immigration policy – to deny asylum-seekers arriving by boat resettlement in Australia and instead send them to camps in Papua New Guinea and the Pacific state of Nauru – has halted the flow.
The move to shut the door on even those registered with the UNHCR refugee agency in Indonesia is the next step, Morrison said.
“While 9 of 10 months of 2014 have passed without a successful people-smuggling venture to Australia, we know smugglers continue to encourage asylum-seekers to travel illegally to Indonesia for the purpose of seeking resettlement in Australia,” he said.
“These changes should reduce the movement of asylum-seekers to Indonesia and encourage them to seek resettlement in or from countries of first asylum.”
‘It’s cruelty writ large’
Morrison said Jakarta had been briefed on the development, as he insisted that Australia continued to support the UN refugee convention.
“We do support the convention,” he said.
“But what we don’t support is how that convention is abused by smugglers who try and leverage people into Australia through whatever means they can.”
The UNHCR said in statement it had been advised of Australia’s decision.
“We encourage resettlement countries including Australia to ensure that refugees are selected based on their protection needs, regardless of nationality, ethnicity, religion, family composition and other such factors,” it said.
The Labor opposition said Australia “has an obligation to be a generous and humane country” while calling for urgent talks with the UNHCR and the government over what expert advice the decision had been based on.
“There are also significant questions around what dialogue Immigration Minister Scott Morrison has had with his Indonesian counterpart about this decision,” said Labor immigration spokesman Richard Marles.
He added that when Labor was in power Australia’s annual humanitarian intake was set at 20,000 places, a figure that has been slashed by the conservatives to 13,750.
The Australian Greens called the decision to deny genuine refugees in Indonesia a passage to Australia cruel, warning it would especially affect those fleeing from Iraq and Afghanistan.
“It’s appalling … and cruelty writ large,” Greens leader Christine Milne said, while her colleague Sarah Hanson-Young called the move “pure arrogance” from the government.
“It’s the exact opposite to what Australia should be doing,” Hanson-Young said, adding that it raised fears that asylum-seekers in Indonesia would now be encouraged to risk longer boat journeys to countries such as New Zealand.
“This is Australia saying we don’t give a damn about these people,” she said. – Rappler.com
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