Australia And Philippines Negotiating Asylum Seeker Transfer Deal

October 9, 2015 – Australia is negotiating a deal with the Philippines to transfer asylum seekers being held indefinitely in controversial detention centres on remote, impoverished islands, Australia’s immigration minister said today.

Australia struck a deal last year with Cambodia to relocate genuine refugees from the camps, although that arrangement has struggled so far to get off the ground.

Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop spoke with her Philippines counterpart Foreign Secretary Albert F. Del Rosario about some type of similar arrangement, Australian Immigration Minister Peter Dutton told reporters.

A spokesman for Rosario confirmed the talks but did not disclose any details.

“We have a bilateral arrangement with Cambodia. If we can strike other arrangements with other countries, we will do that,” Dutton told reporters.

“If we can strike an agreement that is in the best interests of our country and from the Philippines’ perspective, their country, we will arrive at that point,” he added.

Asylum seekers have long been a contentious political issue in Australia, although it has never received anywhere near the number of refugees currently flooding into Europe from the Middle East and North Africa.

Successive Australian governments have vowed to stop asylum seekers reaching the mainland, turning boats back to Indonesia when it can, and sending those it can not to detention in camps on Manus island in Papua New Guinea and on the tiny South Pacific island of Nauru.

Harsh conditions at the camps, including reports of systemic child abuse, have been strongly criticised by the United Nations and human rights groups.

Former prime minister Tony Abbott, ousted in a party-room coup last month, struck a deal last year with Cambodia under which it would get AUS$40 million (US$29 million) in additional aid from Australia for accepting asylum seekers, regardless of the total number.

However, that deal has struggled, with Cambodia threatening to pull out of the agreement after taking only four refugees from among the hundreds held in PNG and Nauru.

New Australia Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said last month he was concerned about conditions in the camps but gave no indication of a major policy change.

This week, Australia’s highest court began considering whether the policy of sending asylum seekers to Nauru for long-term detention is in breach of the constitution, a major challenge to the controversial policy.

Opposition politician Sarah Hanson-Young slammed the proposed deal with the Philippines. “Treating refugees as human cargo in a trade deal with the Philippines is shameful,” she said.

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