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Arrival of hundreds of migrants complicate Australian detention plans

  |   July 25, 2013 at 2:57 PM
CANBERRA, Australia, July 25 (UPI) -- A member of the Australian government has struck back at critics of an asylum-seekers plan even as hundreds of refugees arrived despite the program.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd recently announced a $500 million agreement with Papua New Guinea to house and process all refugees who attempt to come to Australia by boat.

That plan has been frustrated by the arrival of 205 people who have arrived at Christmas Island since the policy was announced, The Australian reported Thursday.

The 52-square-mile Australian territory is 1,600 miles from Perth. It's only 310 miles south of Indonesia, making it a quick and convenient destination for Southeast Asians seeking to migrate to Australia.

Peter O'Neill, the prime minister of Papua New Guinea, had suggested Monday asylum seekers would stop coming after when they knew of the plan to shift them to Manus Island in Papua New Guinea.

However, by Wednesday the number of detainees held on Christmas Island had grown to 522, exceeding the probable capacity of the Papua New Guinea detention center, which is not scheduled to begin construction until January 2014.

Australian opposition leaders said the government could stop asylum boats by granting temporary visas and turning back boats in Australian water.

Immigration Minister Tony Burke countered that neither of those proposals was feasible.

The special visa would be used "if you were settling people in Australia," he said. "The entire principle behind this arrangement [with Papua New Guinea] is that people who come by boat will not be settled in Australia."

Burke added the opposition proposals would create an incentive for asylum-seekers to buy their passage from people-smugglers.

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