PNG

PNG

Sunday, October 7, 2012

PNG asylum facility ready within weeks

The Australian government says asylum seeker processing on Papua New Guinea's Manus Island will start within weeks, as another 33 would-be refugees arrived at Nauru's offshore processing centre.

The group of 18 Sri Lankans, 14 Afghans and one Iranian arrived on a chartered aircraft from Christmas Island on Friday morning.

This brings the number of asylum seekers currently on the island to 181, after three people opted to return home in September.

The government in August committed to offshore processing of asylum seekers who arrive in Australian waters by boat on Nauru and Manus Island.

The coalition joined Labor in the Senate in September to pass the legislative instrument allowing Nauru to be used for offshore processing.

A similar legislative instrument is expected to be introduced into parliament in the coming weeks, which would allow Manus Island to be reopened.

Meanwhile, a war of words has erupted between Immigration Minister Chris Bowen's office and his opposition counterpart Scott Morrison about claims the minister rejected Mr Morrison's request to facilitate a visit to Nauru and Manus Island.

Mr Morrison claims shadow ministry entitlements do not provide for such overseas trips and that he'd be happy to use the regular charter services already being paid for by the minister's department to visit the two sites.

"The refusal to facilitate a visit seems very petty," Mr Morrison said in a statement.

He said Mr Bowen should reconsider given the coalition provided the support in parliament to re-establish offshore processing and given the government will need support again in relation to Manus Island.

A spokesperson for Mr Bowen denied the minister was blocking Mr Morrison's request.

"The minister is happy to ask his department and overseas posts to facilitate access for Mr Morrison to the processing centres, just as we have facilitated every requested visit to an onshore processing centre by him in the past," the spokesperson said.

"The government will not, however, make specific financial provision to fund such a visit."

Mr Bowen met with PNG Prime Minister Peter O'Neill on Friday to discuss progress on reopening the Manus Island processing centre, which is on a naval base on the small pacific island.

"We've worked very closely together on ensuring the facility is ready soon, and I very much welcome your agreement and announcement that we can begin making the first transfers in the coming weeks," Mr Bowen said at a joint press conference in Port Moresby on Friday.

"We have a process to go through in Australia, a parliamentary process, which we will pursue and make those transfers in the coming weeks."

In other news, Christmas Island's retiring administrator Brian Lacy warned on Friday that more riots could break out in the immigration detention centre if overcrowding again becomes a problem.

In March 2011 the detention centre went into lockdown after 200 people threw rocks and burned tents to the ground.

Mr Lacy said the riots arose out of overcrowding after an influx of asylum seekers at the time.

He cautioned the same thing could happen again.

"In recent times a growing number of asylum seekers are coming to Christmas Island," he told ABC radio.

"Even though they are transporting some of them to Nauru, there is, as I say, still the potential for that number to exceed the number they can actually hold without causing any problem there."

AAP