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PH, Australia in talks on refugees’ relocation

/ 01:52 AM October 10, 2015

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) on Friday confirmed that discussions were made by the Philippines and Australia regarding the issues of migration and refugees on the sidelines of the 70th Session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York.

But it was mum on the reported details of the $150-million refugee deal between the two countries to expand Australia’s controversial resettlement policy.

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“The meeting in the UN between Secretary Albert F. del Rosario and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop covered many areas of our bilateral relations, with particular focus on our working for a comprehensive partnership,” Assistant Secretary Charles Jose, spokesperson for the DFA, said in a text message.

Jose was reacting to media reports that the Australian government is in its final negotiations to send refugees from Manus Island to the Philippines, in a deal worth around $150 million.

“The global discourse on the issue of migration and refugees was also discussed in the context of how each country is finding ways to fulfill its international obligations,” Jose said.

Australia struck a deal last year with Cambodia to relocate genuine refugees from the camps, although that arrangement has struggled so far to get off the ground.

Bishop spoke with Del Rosario about a similar arrangement, Australian Immigration Minister Peter Dutton told reporters.

“If we can strike an agreement that is in the best interests of our country and from the Philippines’ perspective, their country, we will arrive at that point,” he said.

According to a news report by the broadsheet The Australian, Bishop received assurance from her counterpart in the Philippines that the deal to transfer asylum seekers being held indefinitely in controversial detention centers on remote, impoverished islands will succeed.

“We will continue the negotiations (with the Philippines) because there is good faith on both sides,” Dutton also said in a front-page report in the British morning paper The Daily Telegraph.

In the last decade, Australia has prevented asylum seekers from its soil through the Pacific solution, a policy to transport asylum seekers to detention centers in Pacific island nations.

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In 2012, The Australian government had a deal with island nations Manus and Naurus to open detention centers to house the asylum seekers arriving in Australia by boat.

Bernard Kerblat, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) representative to the Philippines, said Australia realized the dismal conditions of the asylum seekers in the two islands and struck a deal with Cambodia, inviting refugees to settle there last year.

“But there were questions raised about the appropriateness of the agreement,” Kerblat said, noting that Australia has been passing on its commitment to the 1951 Refugee Convention to another state.

“Assuming that Australia is speaking with the Philippines on this, there is already a problem when Australia pushes the refugee back to the sea and park them in those two islands,” Kerblat said.

Asylum seekers have long been a contentious political issue in Australia, although it has never received anywhere near the number of refugees currently flooding into Europe from the Middle East and North Africa.

Successive Australian governments have vowed to stop asylum seekers reaching the mainland, even if found to be genuine refugees, turning boats back to Indonesia when it can, and sending those it cannot to detention in camps on Manus island in Papua New Guinea and on the tiny South Pacific island of Nauru.

In recent months, Australia has been seeking new countries where the refugees can be granted permanent settlement.

Harsh conditions at the camps, including reports of systemic child abuse, have been strongly criticized by the United Nations and human rights groups. With a report from AFP

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TAGS: Albert Del Rosario, Australia, Department of Foreign Affairs, DFA, Migration, Philippines, refugees, United Nations General Assembly
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