Wednesday, 7 July 2010

East Timor Unlikely To Host 'Regional Processing Centre'

East Timor appears to be rather cool on the idea of Australia fobbing off its problem with 'boat people' off on to the country. Its Deputy Prime Minister Jose Luis Guterres has already said that it is very likely the proposal would be rejected "because we don't have [the right political and social] conditions in East Timor." Also Fretilin MP Jose Teixeira has said his party did not support the proposal, adding that the president Jose Ramos-Horta had no constitutional power when it came to immigration issues.

Now the Law Council of Australia has warned the Federal Government that its plan to process asylum seekers in East Timor will be a legal minefield. For example, what level of legal advice would be available to asylum seekers under its new policy, though this may not be a problem post-election if the opposition Liberals get in as they have already said they will withdraw legal support for asylum seekers. They also prefer going back to the Naruu option, the island used in the original 'Pacific Solution' and that is not a signatory of the UN Refugee Convention.

Australian PM Julia Gillard, who has promised to "relentlessly pursue" her idea of a new off-shore processing centre has already been in touch with the New Zealand and Indonesian governments to support her 'regional solution' but is facing strong opposition in New Zealand, as well as her own country, to the idea. Her position however has been strengthened by the UNHCR's callow decision to give into pressure from the Sri Lankan government and countries like Australia who have lobbied for a change in the organisation's advice on the treatment of Tamil asylum seekers.

On Monday the UNHCR issued new 'Eligibility Guidelines For The Sri Lankan Asylum–Seekers', which state that: "In light of the improved human rights and security situation in Sri Lanka, there is no longer a need for group-based protection mechanisms or for a presumption of eligibility for Sri Lankans of Tamil ethnicity originating from the north of the country," and they are therefore ''no longer in need of international protection under broader refugee criteria or complementary forms of protection solely on the basis of risk or indiscriminate harm.'' In light of this the government will lift its three-month freeze on processing asylum seekers from Sri Lanka today, and those stuck in the system will no doubt be fast-tracked for return.

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