03 February 2012

No move on Australian immigration talks despite more deaths

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Despite a further nine asylum seekers bound for Australia drowning off the coast of southern Malaysia, politicians from both parties have so far refused to resume discussions regarding Australian immigration policy.

Australian immigration

The immigration issue has dominated Australian politics in recent months.

Malaysian authorities recovered nine bodies who drowned when the vessel capsized, a further 18 asylum seekers, of Afghan and Iraqi origin were rescued but it is not known how many were aboard the vessel when it sank.

While this tragedy comes just weeks after an estimated 200 asylum seekers drowned in December, both the government and opposition have so far refused to reopen the talks over Australian immigration policy which stalled in January.

The Australian government has been trying to reinstate their Malaysia solution - sending new boat arrivals to Malaysia in exchange for asylum seekers who had been processed in Malaysia - which was originally ruled unlawful by the Australian High Court.

The opposition has steadfastly refused to support the policy thus far and instead has been pushing its own solution: turning the boats back.

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott has previously stated he would make turning the boats back his "core policy" if he were made prime minister; a policy both the Australian and Indonesian governments have roundly criticised as inhumane.

The opposition has also been attempting to reopen a processing centre on the Pacific Island of Nauru as an alternative solution to the immigration issue but after a visit by several government officials, the cost of refurbishing the dilapidated centre was deemed to be too high.

News of this most recent sinking had prompted some to expect the talks between the two parties would resume but Opposition Immigration Spokesman Scott Morrison has rejected this assumption:

"There are no further talks because the government has refused to change the legislation which they are seeking to force upon the parliament.

"We know they won't turn the boats back; there is a sharp contrast between the coalition and the government on this issue," said Mr Morrison.

Mr Morrison also commented that the government had "no serious intention" of reinstating a programme which granted an Australian visa to those in need of temporary protection.

Immigration Minister Chris Bowen spoke at a refugee conference in Melbourne where he reaffirmed the government's commitment to its Malaysia solution:

"Although it is clear that we will not be able to implement the arrangement with the government of Malaysia so long as the opposition holds its current position on offshore processing, we remain convinced of its importance and virtue.

"We believe the Malaysia arrangement is the best policy approach, both for Australia and for asylum seekers, providing, as it does, a clear deterrence to people getting on precarious boats and risking their lives."

The Malaysian government has stated that this latest tragedy highlights the need for a solution to be found as quickly as possible:

"Through this latest tragedy we have once more witnessed the sheer and utter disregard that people traffickers have for human life and our thoughts are with the families of the dead and missing at this time," said a spokesperson for the Malaysian government.

"They can rest assured that Malaysia will continue to do everything it can to prevent such a disaster occurring again.

"In the worst possible manner this tragedy has again reinforced the need for international co-operation to tackle this global problem."

While these talks go back and forth between the parties, more and more boats attempt to make the treacherous journey from oppressive regimes to Australia. Another 54 asylum seekers, this time from Burma, have since been needed to be rescued off the coast of Indonesia, the most common route for asylum seekers trying to get to Australia, after their boat broke down and ran into difficulties.

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