Australia's refugee center must be temporary: East Timor president

17:22, October 11, 2010      

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Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard's vision for a regional refugee processing hub on Monday has been dealt a blow, with East Timor's president insisting that it will only be considered as a temporary solution.

On the eve of formal discussions with Australian Immigration Minister Chris Bowen, East Timor President Jose Ramos Horta on Monday outlined a set of strict conditions that would be imposed on any deal on a processing center being built in East Timor.

According to Australia Associated Press, Dr Ramos Horta has also put a price tag on establishing such a facility of at least 60 million dollars (59 million U.S. dollars) in the first year alone.

While Dr Ramos Horta has voiced support for Gillard's plan, saying East Timor had a humanitarian obligation to accept the proposal, he also insisted Dili of East Timor would only consider it as a temporary solution to the region's asylum seeker problem.

"Any asylum seeker center has to be a regional mechanism, it has to be led by the UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees), it has to be financed by others ... and it has to be temporary, not permanent," Dr Ramos Horta told Australia Associated Press on Monday.

"It could be something like 30 million U.S. dollars just for the infrastructure."

East Timor would also insist that asylum seekers be processed in a timely manner, and be held at the facility for a maximum of three years only.

"They cannot be waiting like they do in Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand for up to 20 years in camps."

Dr Ramos Horta will outline his concerns about the plan, which has little support among Members of Parliament (MPs) in East Timor, when he meets Bowen on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, the immigration minister said he would persevere with the plan and was looking forward to an open dialogue with Dr Ramos Horta.

"I won't be laying down a non-negotiable framework, of course not, I'll be discussing the issues with them and seeing if there's a common way forward," Bowen told ABC Radio.

Bowen, who will also travel to Indonesia and Malaysia to discuss the plan, stressed that East Timor was not the only solution.

"East Timor remains as our focus and obviously there are plenty of other nations in the region we could look at as well," he said.

However, the opposition seized on the comments from Dr Ramos Horta, with immigration spokesman Scott Morrison saying they proved Labor's plan would never happen.

"The president's comments just underscore again the fanciful nature of this proposal," Morrison told Australia Associated Press.

"The government clearly cannot take a hint when it comes to this idea and rather than wasting further time with endless talk they should address their own policies that are at the heart of our very Australian problem."

Bowen's trip came as the government continues to face pressure on the asylum seeker issue due to overcrowding and its inability to stop the flow of boats.

There are now more than 5,000 people in immigration detention in Australia with another boat, the seventh in just over a week, intercepted on Monday morning near Christmas Island carrying 10 asylum seekers.

The development also came as the Australian Greens announced plans to try to amend the Migration Act, so that more than 700 children in immigration facilities could be housed in the community.

Both the government and the coalition are unlikely to support the amendment.

Source: Xinhua


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