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UNHCR not to involve in Australian gov't Pacific solutions

(Xinhua)

16:25, September 02, 2011

CANBERRA, Sept. 2 (Xinhua) -- United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) on Friday said it will not be involved if Australian federal government restarts offshore processing in Papua New Guinea or Nauru.

UNHCR regional representative Richard Towle said the agency was always uncomfortable with the idea of a convention state sending people to another country that did not have the capacity, expertise or experience to deal with refugees.

In a 6-1 decision, Australia's High court on Wednesday ruled Malaysia refugee swap deal did not have laws in place to ensure the safety of asylum seekers.

More than 330 asylum seekers originally bound for Malaysia are in limbo on Christmas Island until a decision is made on where to send them for processing. Prime Minister Julia Gillard said she is considering all options, including reintroducing elements of the Howard government's so-called Pacific Solution reopening offshore detention centers.

Towle said his organization will not be involved in reopening the detention centers in Nauru or Papua New Guinea.

"We are not inclined to be involved in any arrangements in Nauru and Papua New Guinea," he told ABC Television on Friday.

"We see these as principally Australian initiatives to manage people in an extra-territorial way.

"These are not the kinds of things that fit with what we believe to be the set of activities for strengthening regional co- operation in south-east Asia."

Towle said he had serious concerns about Papua New Guinea's ability to deal with refugees and meet the standards required to meet the High Court's safeguards.

He also said Nauru, which is not a signatory to the UN refugee convention, had not been "a live issue".

"I don't believe as of today they have any capacity to undertake refugee status determination or the various obligations they have under the convention at all, so the question of their competence and capacity would be the first thing to look at."

He added that the key to stemming the flow of asylum seekers to Australia was to improve conditions for refugees regionally.

"The key for us is a real concerted effort to improve protection in South-East Asia, not find more and more creative ways of moving people from Australia into the Pacific under Australia's responsibility," he said.

High Court's decision has been a blow to the federal government, it has left the government reeling without a credible border protection policy, and increased the likelihood of a fresh wave of boat arrivals. There were also reports saying that Gillard 's leadership is under scrutiny as some members of parliament (MPs) are already discussing possible replacements for her leadership.

Under the proposed deal, Australia will send 800 asylum seekers to Malaysia, in exchanged to take 4,000 refugees from camps in Malaysia.

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