Prime Minister Julia Gillard must explain how her plans for a regional processing centre in East Timor differ from the discredited ‘Pacific Solution’, international aid agency Oxfam Australia said today.
Oxfam Australia’s Executive Director Andrew Hewett said while it was encouraging that the Prime Minister had said she was not interested in pursuing a new ‘Pacific Solution’ and that she had spoken to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the difference between her plan and the former policy was not clear.
“Oxfam recognises that the Prime Minister today made a real effort to put the facts about asylum seekers on the table. This is an important part of what to date has always been an emotive debate which has not always focused on facts and truth.
“But we are concerned that Prime Minister Gillard is using new language to describe an old approach which did not work. The ‘Pacific Solution’ cost Australian taxpayers a billion dollars and left men, women and children in extremely traumatic circumstances,” Mr Hewett said.
Mr Hewett said the Prime Minister needed to provide quick answers to the following questions:
What is the proposal for accommodating people in East Timor? Will people, including women and children, be held in detention?
- Will the arrangement be only for processing asylum seekers who have attempted to reach Australia, or will it also process asylum seekers from other countries in our region?
- Will this be a genuine partnership with other countries in our region?
- Will Australia provide financial assistance to East Timor and if so will this money come from the existing aid budget?
- What involvement and role will the UNHCR have in the new centre?
- What mechanisms will be in place to monitor people’s well being in the new centre, to ensure that the system is transparent and that people have access to support services?
- How will Australia ensure the safe return of people who are found not to be refugees – including people who may be returned to Sri Lanka now the suspension on their processing has been lifted?
“The Prime Minister is right to say that there is no quick fix to this issue. But she needs to explain how her proposal will provide a sustainable and humane solution for refugees and asylum seekers,” Mr Hewett said.
Oxfam is also concerned by the Opposition’s policy announced today and its recommitment to the failed policies of the ‘Pacific Solution’ and Temporary Protection Visas (TPVs).
“Determining whether a person is a refugee based on whether they have documents with them or not is not a relevant consideration. There are legitimate reasons why people may have either destroyed documents or not been able to bring them with them when they had to flee for safety,” Mr Hewett said.
“The proposal to create an extra level of processing for asylum seekers by increasing the Minister’s involvement in assessing claims will only slow the process down and make it less accountable and transparent.”
For more information contact: Kate Thwaites, firstname.lastname@example.org, 0407 515 559