Friday, 5 August 2011

Australia's answer to aslyum seekers

Kids test resolve on Malaysia Solution

Refugees arrive at Christmas Island
Refugees arrive at Christmas Island for processing. This group is the first to arrive under the new refugee-swap arrangement with Malaysia. Picture: Stephen Cooper Source: The Daily Telegraph

His expression impassive, the youngest asylum-seeker to arrive under the government's Malaysia Solution walked down the wharf at Flying Fish Cove. The grin that normally adorns the faces of children when they arrive on Christmas Island was absent.

The woman who held the little boy's hand broke into a smile as they made their way on to the island, but their arrival, four days after their boat was intercepted in the Timor Sea, was a subdued affair.

There was heavy police presence on the dock. Only one local was on the shore to watch; in previous years, residents have greeted boatpeople with placards urging them to seek asylum.

Noticeable among the group was the high proportion of young faces. Of the 55 asylum-seekers destined to be sent to Malaysia, there were 19 people "who are either clearly minors or who are claiming to be minors", according to Immigration Minister Chris Bowen.

The high number of children, 14 of them said to be unaccompanied minors who travelled without parents or guardians, will test the government's nerve on forcibly sending the young and the vulnerable to Kuala Lumpur.

Mr Bowen has said the "pre-transfer process was under way".

"But people should work on the basis if they come to Australia by boat, they will be transferred to Malaysia," he said.

The asylum-seekers were put on to buses and taken to the Phosphate Hill detention facility where they had their fingerprints and photos taken and health checks.

Then they were told by immigration officials they would be sent to Malaysia, the last step before being taken to their compounds.

Adult men from the group were separated from the others and transported to the island's main immigration detention centre yesterday afternoon.

Riot police on the island are bracing for resistance, as the government tries to meet its goal of sending the first 800 new arrivals back to Malaysia in exchange for 4000 UNHCR recognised refugees. "As I've said previously, and as is clear in the agreement, the aim is to process people within 72 hours," Mr Bowen said.

"The process now begins for the pre-transfer vetting of these people and providing the appropriate steps to begin transfer to Malaysia in the coming period. However, we'll take some time to ramp up to that. We're in very active and advanced discussions with the Malaysian government about the date of transfer and there may well be a number of transfers, and that will occur over a period of time."

Last night, Julia Gillard rejected concerns about how Australians might react to seeing images of asylum-seekers being forcibly removed, telling the ABC's Lateline program people would be horrified by images showing asylum-seekers dying, as had happened when a vessel crashed into rocks off Christmas Island last December. "What I'm trying to do is stop this evil trade," the Prime Minister said.

"I don't want to see people preyed on. How individual people feel about any footage is a question for them." Last night, two senior Malaysian police flew into Christmas Island to inspect the process of selecting asylum-seekers for transfer.

Exactly where the 800 will be housed in Malaysia is yet to be resolved. The Department of Immigration and Citizenship has been practising for a swift turnaround. The last group of asylum-seekers to beat the Malaysia agreement was transferred to the mainland within 72 hours, and health checks that can take weeks were completed in less than 24 hours.

A crew from the Immigration Department's media unit is due to fly to the island to film the removals. The footage will be used in an awareness campaign, including on YouTube, to deter more boats.

Mr Bowen told a press conference in Adelaide yesterday afternoon that of the children, 14 were unaccompanied, three were with a parent and two were in the company of an adult sibling.


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