PNG Offers Manus Islands As Asylum Center For Australia

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Australian report recommends more processing facilities

MELBOURNE, Australia (Radio Australia, Aug. 14, 2012) – The Papua New Guinea (PNG) Government says it's prepared to offer Manus Island as a processing centre for asylum seekers if approached by Australia.

The offer follows the release on Monday of former Australian Defence Force Chief Angus Houston's report on asylum seeker policy.

The report recommended asylum seekers be processed in PNG and Nauru as soon as practical to deter people from making the dangerous boat voyage from Indonesia.

PNG Prime Minister Peter O'Neill said asylum seeker policy was a "humanitarian issue that needs to be addressed" and that his government was committed to helping Australia address it as a regional issue.

"We are ready to facilitate and help find a solution to this tragedy, so the Manus processing centre remains available as a regional processing centre," Mr. O'Neill said in a statement.

"It should be seen as a regional issue and not just a problem for Australia."

Mr. O'Neill said he had made his position on asylum seeker policy known in the past and that it had not changed.

"It is a tragedy when we see boatloads of people seeking asylum sink," he said.


The Houston report also called for an immediate boost to the number of refugees taken under the humanitarian program to 20,000 places, and to 27,000 within five years.

Mr. Houston said there should be enhanced co-operation between Australia and Indonesia as a matter of urgency - including on joint surveillance, law enforcement and search and rescue.

He said the aim was to convince asylum seekers to use the official channels for seeking refugee status in Australia - rather than risking the boat trip.

"The panel believes that a substantially increased, and more regionally focused humanitarian program would give greater confidence asylum seekers in the region that regular migration pathways provide a better to dangerous boat voyages," Mr. Houston said.

Panel member Michael L'Estrange said the focus should not just be on the offshore processing element of the panel's plan.

He said other proposals in the plan, including extra refugee places, will deter asylum seekers from using people smugglers.

"That will actually encourage more people to say, 'I'm not going to waste my money on people smugglers, I will take the option which has now been more enhanced with more places more capacity and basically go that route,'" he said.

'Deeply disappointed'

The chief executive officer of the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre in Melbourne, Kon Karapanagiotidis, said he was shocked by the panel's recommendations.

"We are deeply disappointed," he said.

"I think it's a recommendation that basically just rubber stamps what (Prime Minister Julia) Gillard has been arguing for. And it just shows you the lack of integrity, and the lack of genuine process because what this panel is putting forward is not what the community and the public were making submissions on."

General secretary of PNG and Solomon Islands Catholic Bishops Conference, Father Victor Roche, told Radio Australia that when one of their bishops last year described his unhappiness at the conditions he saw in an offshore detention centre, the bishops formed a collective viewpoint on the issue.

"We are against the offshore detention centers in Papua New Guinea," Father Roche said.

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