Leakd plans have exposed the unfair burden Julia Gillard’s “East Timor solution” would put on the tiny impoverished nation. They have confirmed that the proposal is all about Australia avoiding its obligations to asylum seekers—just like John Howard’s Pacific Solution.
The “concept plan”, leaked to Lateline, details the Australian government’s proposals for a detention centre to hold between 1000 and 4000 people. It wants the UN refugee agency, the UNHCR, to process refugee applications at the centre.
But the document shows it has received no indication whatsoever that the UNHCR is willing to do this. The UNHCR opposed “offshore processing” under the Pacific Solution and welcomed the end of the policy, calling it a “difficult chapter in Australia’s treatment of refugees and asylum seekers”.
Disgracefully, the documents show that the Gillard government wants East Timor to deal with rejected asylum seekers—people who are Australia’s responsibility. Timor would take responsibility for carrying out deportations, and would also need to set up an appeals tribunal to hear asylum cases—in a country with just 17 judges. Australia wants to use the centre to process claims of any asylum seekers arriving here by boat. And the government has only committed to taking a fraction of those processed in East Timor and found to be refugees, saying it will take only its “fair share”. This is exactly what Howard did with the Pacific Solution.
The proposal is widely opposed in East Timor—with Deputy Prime Minister Jose Luis Guterres the latest to speak out against it. He commented, “Perhaps it would be better… in another place instead of Timor-Leste. Why not in Australia itself, which has an immense territory and available resources?” Timor’s parliament voted against the proposal late last year, and a coalition of local NGO groups are also campaigning against the plan.
The leaked documents have hardened opposition to the proposal, with Amnesty and a range of refugee lawyers condemning it. Sydney’s Refugee Action Coalition has drafted an open letter to Timorese President Jose Ramos Horta to help consolidate opposition. The refugee movement must stop this further attempt to strip away the rights of refugees.
By James Supple