By Sid Astbury, dpa
SYDNEY — Australia began deporting undocumented migrants arriving by boat to camps on Pacific islands Friday to deter other mostly Middle Eastern asylum seekers sailing from Indonesia to circumvent visa requirements. The so-called Pacific Solution worked the first time around.
There were no boat arrivals in 2002, the year after John Howard’s conservatives cajoled Nauru and Papua New Guinea into hosting offshore immigration detention centers for those who had paid smugglers for a passage to Australia in a ramshackle boat. The camps soon emptied and in 2007, when Labor took over government, they were closed.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard, overwhelmed by fresh boat arrivals, has resurrected a policy she described earlier in the year as “costly, unsustainable and wrong.” There are doubts the Pacific Solution will work twice. In the four weeks since Gillard announced she was reopening the Pacific camps, smugglers have never been busier. Over 10,000 people have arrived so far this year by boat, half of them since July. Over 2,000 have landed since the Gillard announcement, enough to fill the tents waiting for them in Nauru and Papua New Guinea several times over. There are an estimated 12,000 would-be refugees in Indonesia awaiting boats for the passage to Australia. Immigration Minister Chris Bowen admitted “there are challenges implementing this policy” — not least, making good on promises to Nauru and Papua New Guinea that the campers would eventually leave. During Labor’s time in office only 17 asylum seekers so far have been sent back to their homelands. Almost all those found not to be genuine refugees stay on while human rights lawyers appeal against the rulings. Another headache: Iran, a prime source of people arriving in boats, refuses to take back citizens who flee. Bowen said the resurrected Pacific Solution would be backed by a no-advantage rule that would entail those taken to Nauru and Papua New Guinea waiting there the same length of time as those queuing at the U.N. mission in Jakarta for resettlement in a rich country.