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19 Jul, 2013 17:49

Australia to deport asylum seekers to Papua New Guinea

Australia to deport asylum seekers to Papua New Guinea

Australia will deport all asylum seekers who arrive by boat to Papua New Guinea, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has warned. The measure is aimed at halting the dramatic increase in refugee boats arriving on Australian shores.

“The rules have changed – if you come by boat you will never permanently live in Australia,” said the prime minister in his address, adding that asylum seekers will be  sent to Papua New Guinea according to a new deal signed by Rudd and Papua New Guinea Prime Minister Peter O'Neill in Brisbane. He noted, however, that Australia will continue to have cooperative arrangements concerning refugee camps with the Pacific Republic of Nauru.

The move comes just two days after a boat carrying around 150 asylum seekers capsized in the Indian Ocean off Christmas Island, killing four people.

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

December 16, 2010 photo shows people floating amid and hanging onto the splintered remains of the wooden boat carrying refugees travelling from Asia after it smashed into the rocky coastline of Christmas Island (AFP Photo / Channel 7)

Rudd added that the deal with Papua New Guinea is aimed at stopping "the scourge of people smuggling" and it sends a loud and clear message to the smugglers that  “their business model is now basically undermined.”

Thousands of asylum seekers come to into Indonesia every year where they pay smugglers to ferry them on overcrowded, rickety boats to Christmas Island - the nearest Australian territory. Since the beginning of 2013, more than 15,000 asylum seekers have arrived to Australia by sea, according to Rudd. Australia currently detains all boat arrivals.

The country received 16,000 asylum claims in 2012. The numbers of applicants has increased this year, with 12,400 asylum applications submitted to the Australian Department of Immigration and Citizenship between January and May.

Since 2001, around 1,000 people have died while trying to reach Australia's Indian Ocean territory,  Christmas Island. The deadliest incident occurred in 2011, when a boat sank off the coast of East Java, killing 200 people.

Papua New Guinea’s prime minister has not set a limit on the number of asylum seekers the country will accept.  In return, Australia – which is Papua New Guinea’s former colonial dominate and currently its largest source of foreign aid – has vowed to redevelop the refugee area. The agreement includes an expansion of the Manus Island detention center, which will be renovated to shelter 3,000 people – a sharp increase from its original capacity of around 600. The deal comes just one week after the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) found major shortcomings with the Manus center.

Most asylum seekers aiming to reach Australia travel to Indonesia from Iran. Others come from Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Vietnam, Iraq, Bangladesh, and Burma, according to Sky News.

Australia’s prime minister acknowledged at the news conference that Indonesia plans to toughen visa arrangements for Iranians, in a bid to stop the flow of illegal immigrants. It is not yet known when the restriction will take effect.

Human rights group Amnesty International has condemned Australia’s actions, claiming the country is not fulfilling its moral obligations. 

"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," Amnesty's regional refugee coordinator, Graeme McGregor, said in a statement.

A few hours after Rudd made the announcement, the Immigration Department reported a riot at its detention center on Nauru island. According to a spokeswoman for the department, a number of detainees had breached the fence and several staff and detainees were being treated for injuries.