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Revealed: Australia's asylum plans

Sydney Morning Herald

Wednesday February 2, 2011

Erik Jensen

EAST TIMOR would be responsible for the legal processing and resettlement of asylum-seekers trying to reach Australia, using its laws and diplomatic relationships, according to leaked documents prepared by the federal government.The documents from November show the federal government intends to build a refugee processing centre in East Timor to hold between 1000 and 4000 people. The site for the centre was not established and nor were specific costings.The document says the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees would be sought to undertake the determination process for asylum seekers, but offers no indication the body has agreed to this."Another option could be for countries that undertake [refugee status determination] processes, such as Australia, to assist in the determination process at the centre while building Timor Leste's capacity to undertake these processes," the document says.It also says East Timor would need to establish its own review process for failed asylum seekers, suggesting these people would be the responsibility of East Timor."Review mechanisms will need to be consistent with Timor Leste's legislation," the document reads.The executive director of the Refugee and Immigration Legal Centre, David Manne, said: "It would appear they're trying to enmesh this process in the East Timor legal system and leave it to them."What's clear from the document is there's no evidence that there's been any agreement from the UNHCR to be engaged at all. It's one of many areas where central issues are completely unconfirmed. It's contingency on contingency, and it raises more questions than it answers."The UNHCR opposed offshore processing connected to the so-called "Pacific solution", and called the scheme a "difficult chapter in Australia's treatment of refugees and asylum seekers" when it was ended in 2008. It could not be reached for comment last night."Many bona fide refugees caught by the policy spent long periods of isolation, mental hardship and uncertainty - and prolonged separation from their families," the organisation said at the time."We welcome the prompt decision taken by the new Australian government to end the Pacific solution and bring the refugees to Australia."The document says East Timor could play a "lead role in pursuing increased diplomatic efforts to attract new resettlement opportunities in the region [which could include] non-signatory countries such as first-asylum and transit countries that may be in a position to offer effective protection to refugees." The Immigration Minister, Chris Bowen, told ABC TV's Lateline that negotiations continued with East Timor and it would be inappropriate to discuss the document.The document speculates that 200 male asylum seekers could be housed in the compound within 12 months of a site being selected. Another 600 would be housed six months after that.A centre for 1000 people, with emergency capacity for 2000, would be finished within two years of site selection, the document said.

© 2011 Sydney Morning Herald

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