Australia defends new refugee policy

Australia defends new refugee policy

SYDNEY - Agence France-Presse
Australia’s new policy of resettling refugees in Papua New Guinea was already deterring boatpeople, the government said yesterday as Prime Minister Kevin Rudd attacked people-smugglers as “merchants in death.”

Rudd, facing an election this year, announced July 19 that all asylum-seekers who arrive by boat will be sent to poverty-stricken Papua New Guinea even if found to be genuine refugees under a deal signed with its Pacific neighbor.

Immigration Minister Tony Burke said indications showed the plan was already having the desired impact of stopping unauthorized boats, many of which have sunk en route in recent years, drowning hundreds of men, women and children. “It’s already having an effect,” he told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, adding that boats that arrived in Australian waters over the weekend had left prior to Rudd’s announcement.

However, the tightening of Australia’s approach to asylum-seekers has not entirely stopped the boats arriving. Authorities were yesterday called to search for an Indonesian fishing vessel carrying about 30 people feared missing north of the Indian Ocean territory of Christmas Island.

Rudd, who dismantled the previous conservative government’s hardline immigration policy after first coming to power in 2007, said the new response was ethical.