(Video: Al Jazeera English)
(September 11, 2012) - Australia's ruling Labor party still hopes its asylum seeker people-swap deal with Malaysia will succeed, with Immigration Minister Chris Bowen confirming the government would continue to ‘‘vigorously prosecute’’ the arrangement.
As the government prepares to send the first handful of asylum seekers to Nauru, and boats continue to pour into Australian waters at record levels, Mr. Bowen said the Malaysia deal was still part of his calculations.
"We have been in contact with our Malaysia counterparts at various levels," he said.
The final legislation designating Nauru as an offshore processing location was introduced yesterday as another four boats carrying a combined 265 people were intercepted. This made eight boats since Friday and 2150 asylum seekers on 36 boats arriving in Australia since August 13.
On that day the government announced it would reopen Nauru and Manus Island and warned anyone intercepted after that day risked being taken offshore.
Nauru will have a final capacity for 1500 people, including 500 by the end of this month, and Manus Island is being set up to accommodate 600, for a total offshore capacity of 2100 when both camps are set up.
It will be impossible to send to the camps all that have arrived since August 13, meaning people will be selected from among those who have already arrived. The government hopes it will deter others. The opposition called this a lottery, and said the government must undertake that everyone who arrives from now be sent to Nauru.
''If the government says they are now in a position to send people there for processing then send people there they must,'' the opposition immigration spokesman, Scott Morrison, said. "Any exceptions on those the government sends to Nauru will only dilute what is already a half-hearted message that this government is sending out to people smugglers.''
The Immigration Minister, Chris Bowen, announced a military team was en route to Papua New Guinea to begin setting up the Manus Island camp. He said there were enough temporary facilities on Nauru to send people there by the end of the week.
They will be flown there and they will have no idea how long they will stay. The government has yet to finalize the ''no advantage'' period, which will require asylum seekers, even those who are found to be refugees, to spend as long on Nauru and Manus Island as they would if they had stayed in a refugee camp. This period will be several years.
The legislative instrument tabled by Mr. Bowen says it is estimated 704 asylum seekers have died at sea since October 2009, and the cost to the budget over the next four years due to the surge in arrivals is not more than $5 billion.
"They are coming little by little. Four days ago, 20 people came to Jakarta Airport," said refugee Alemzadeh, who is in Cisarua waiting for a boat to Christmas Island. "They know [about the new policy], but they don't stop. They say it's too dangerous to stay in Pakistan."
Alemzadeh said that for perhaps 15 days after the government's policy was announced, the influx from the war-torn regions had stopped, but it had now resumed. The recent drowning of more than 100 Hazara asylum seekers had also not deterred them.
- This article first appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald by Phillip Coorey and Michael Bachelard and Jessica Wright.