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Rudd announces plan to reduce number of asylum-seekers in Australia

July 19, 2013 at 8:04 AM   |   Comments

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CANBERRA, Australia, July 19 (UPI) -- Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, trying to curb the number of asylum-seekers, said no one arriving by boat without a visa would be allowed to settle in Australia.

Under a tough new policy, asylum-seekers arriving in Australia by boat would be sent to a refugee processing center in Papua New Guinea, where they would be resettled if they're found to be genuine refugees, forfeiting any right to asylum in Australia, The New York Times reported.

Rudd said there wouldn't be a cap on the number of asylum-seekers sent to Papua New Guinea's Manus Island detention center, The Australian reported.

"If they are found to be genuine refugees they will be resettled in Papua New Guinea -- an emerging economy with a strong future, a robust democracy, which is also a signatory to the United Nations refugees convention," Rudd said. "If they are found not to be genuine refugees, they may be repatriated to their country of origin or be sent to a safe third country other than Australia."

Thousands of asylum-seekers arrive in annually in Indonesia, where they pay smugglers to take them in often unsafe vessels to Christmas Island, an Australian territory in the Indian Ocean. Since 2009, maritime accidents have killed more than 600 of the asylum-seekers.

So far this year, smugglers have shipped more than 15,000 asylum-seekers to Australia, The Australian said.

"Australians have had enough of seeing people drowning in the waters to our north. Our country has had enough of people-smugglers exploiting asylum-seekers and seeing them drown on the high seas," Rudd said.

Rudd, facing a highly charged federal election in a few weeks, recognized that the policy was tough and likely to face a court challenge. He said the policy would be reviewed after a year.

The cost to build facilities in Papua New Guinea wasn't immediately known.

Opposition leader Tony Abbott welcomed the initiative as a "very promising development," but said it would never work "with Mr Rudd in charge."

He said it was Labor's fifth time dealing with asylum-seekers and the agreement announced Friday was about processing, "not stopping the boats".

Rudd's plan drew criticism quickly from rights groups.

"The new plans to resettle all asylum-seekers that are found to be refugees in PNG shows not only a complete disregard for asylum-seekers but absolute contempt for legal and moral obligations," Graeme McGregor, Amnesty International Australia's refugee campaign coordinator, said in a release. "Mark this day in history as the day Australia decided to turn its back on the world's most vulnerable people, closed the door and threw away the key."

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