The Australian High Commission today announced that illegal boat arrivals from Sri Lanka would not be settled in Australia, even if they satisfied the criteria for refugee status under the United Nations Refugee convention.
It said instead those who arrive in Australia without a visa and found to have a genuine case for refugee status would be settled in Papua New Guinea according to a recent agreement signed between the governments of Papua New Guinea and Australia.
“From now on, anyone arriving in Australia by boat without a visa will be transferred to PNG —this includes women and children. PNG officials will assess their claims on Manus Island,” Acting Australian High Commissioner Sonya Koppe said.
The agreement signed on July 19 states that all those who arrive in Australia without visas will have the validity of their refugee status assessed according to the laws of the PNG Government. Those who arrived prior to the date of the agreement will be processed by the Australian Government and under Australian government laws.
Jose Alvarez the Minister–Counselor (Immigration) and Regional Director (South Asia) Department of Immigration and Citizenship said Australia and PNG were both signatories to the United Nations Refugee convention.
The High Commission also announced that 68 Sri Lankans had arrived in Australia on Thursday night and would be sent to Christmas Island (Australia) for mandatory health screening before being sent to Papua New Guinea.
According to the agreement between the two countries there is no limit on the number that will be sent to PNG’s Manus Island, which has the capacity to accommodate 200 people and this is expected to be increased to 3,000 when compared with the 2,000-person capacity on Christmas Island.
The High Commission will also begin awareness campaigns in Sri Lanka centered in “source areas” and “departure points” for people smugglers. “We will have print media campaigns starting today, TV advertisements next week and posters, leaflets and billboards will also be used to make the message very clear,” Australian Customs and Border Protection Service Counselor-Director Sue Knight said. (DS)