Mon, Aug 07, 2006 - Page 5 News List

Australian PM says he won't backtrack on refugee policy


Australian Prime Minister John Howard said yesterday he would not back down on plans to process refugees in remote Pacific island camps, despite backbench unrest over his new immigration law.

Several of Howard's own lawmakers are opposed to the legislation, which is seen as an attempt to ease Indonesian concerns over Papuan separatists seeking asylum in Australia.

Backbench unrest has already delayed the law and forced Howard to make concessions.

Howard said yesterday the legislation would be debated next week when parliament returns from its winter recess, and added there would be no more changes.

"It remains the government's policy to go ahead with the bill in the form, including the amendments, that I announced before the parliament broke for the winter," he told Ten Network television.

The government has proposed toughening its immigration laws so that asylum-seekers who arrive in mainland Australia by boat would be sent to detention centers on the islands of Nauru and Manus in Papua New Guinea while their claims are processed.

Even those found to be genuine refugees could be refused asylum in Australia and sent instead to other countries.

Currently only refugees who arrive on outlying islands are processed offshore.

Facing defeat on the legislation, Howard agreed in June to guarantee women and children better conditions in offshore centers, to detain children only as a last resort, and allow oversight by an ombudsman.

The bill is seen as an effort to discourage further Papuan separatists from seeking asylum in Australia.

Canberra's decision to grant 42 Papuans temporary protection earlier this year prompted a bitter diplomatic rift with Jakarta.

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