The first planeload of asylum seekers sent to the tiny Pacific nation of Nauru arrived yesterday as part of Canberra’s tough new stance on tackling a record influx of boat people.
Thirty Sri Lankan men touched down on the remote outpost after being flown from the Australian territory of Christmas Island, Australian Immigration Minister Chris Bowen said, adding that the transfer went “smoothly and without incident.”
They are the first asylum seeker boat arrivals to undergo offshore processing since the Labor government of then prime minister Kevin Rudd closed the Nauru facility in 2008, and will initially be forced to live in tents.
“We know that there have been people-smugglers out there in the region over recent weeks peddling lies and untruths, saying that this wouldn’t happen,” Bowen said. “That somehow the Nauru processing center wouldn’t be established or that they could provide guarantees that people wouldn’t be transferred there. This tells the lie to the people smugglers’ message of the last few weeks.”
“The message is very clear,” he added. “If you arrive in Australia by boat you can be taken from Australia by aeroplane and processed in another country.”
Canberra last month announced it would transfer asylum seekers who arrived by boat to Nauru and Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island as a way of deterring refugees from paying people-smugglers to transport them to Australia.
It follows a flood of boat people this year, with 10,000 arriving so far, many of them Afghans, Iraqis and Iranians who have paid people-smugglers to ferry them from Indonesia.
The government has been frantically working to improve facilities on Nauru and until permanent accommodation is ready, the boat people are to live under canvas.