Australia Asylum: MPs Back Offshore Processing

by
staff
Australian MPs have approved laws allowing offshore processing camps for asylum seekers to be re-established in Papua New Guinea and Nauru.

Australia has seen an increase in asylum seekers arriving by boat in recent months

Australian MPs have approved laws allowing offshore processing camps for asylum seekers to be re-established in Papua New Guinea and Nauru.

The lower house passed a bill presented to parliament on Tuesday, following recommendations from an expert panel.

The bill now goes to the Senate but is expected to pass because it has the backing of both the governing Labor Party and the opposition.

Labor, under former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, closed the camps in 2008.

The debate on the legislation in the lower house lasted for six hours on Tuesday and continued the next day.

"It's an important day that this legislation pass because the [government] executive should be able to implement offshore processing," Immigration Minister Chris Bowen was quoted by ABC News as saying as debate ended.

He said this was not the end of efforts dealing with people smuggling in Australia.

In a report on Monday an expert panel appointed by Prime Minister Julia Gillard set out 22 recommendations aimed at tackling people-smuggling issues, including increasing the number of refugees that Australia accepts.

Ms Gillard said on Tuesday that she hoped processing centres for asylum seekers could be reopened "within a month".

The move comes amid rising numbers of asylum seekers travelling to Australia by boat from Indonesia.

Australian officials say offshore processing is needed as a deterrent against making the perilous journey - pointing out that many lives have been lost in sinkings in recent years.

But critics say the policy - known as the Pacific Solution before it was scrapped in 2008 - violates asylum seekers' rights. In the past detainees on Nauru mounted multiple hunger strikes to protest against both conditions and the length of their detention.

Some protests against offshore processing have been reported outside immigration offices in Sydney and Melbourne.

"Already we've heard the prime minister talk about people having no advantage, no advantage to the most disadvantaged, what does that mean?" Pamela Curr, from the Refugee Advocate Group in Melbourne, told ABC.

"Nobody can tell us, but we know that it could mean decades on Nauru."