Australia yesterday said it would bump up its annual refugee intake to 20,000 a year, a 40 percent increase and the biggest in 30 years as part of a people-smuggling deterrence plan.
Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard said the boost, which was recommended by a recent expert inquiry into refugee policy, would include the immediate resettlement of 400 asylum seekers from Indonesia as a gesture of goodwill.
“We will be increasing our annual refugee intake from 13,750 to 20,000 places in this financial year,” Gillard said in a statement.
The financial year began on July 1.
“This is a more than 40 percent increase to our humanitarian intake and the biggest boost to Australia’s refugee intake in 30 years,” she said.
The increase, accompanied by a A$10 million (US$10.5 million) funding injection to regional refugee programs, particularly in Indonesia and Malaysia, is part of tough new policies aimed at stopping people-smuggling.
Canberra hopes the measures, which include the offshore detention of boatpeople on remote Manus Island and Nauru in the Pacific for indefinite periods, will deter asylum seekers from making the dangerous sea voyage. Hundreds have died in the past year in the seas between Indonesia and Australia in smuggling ship accidents, but that has not deterred asylum seekers from continuing to attempt the voyage in record numbers.
Gillard said the immediate resettlement of 400 refugees from key transit country Indonesia “underscores our commitment to offering safe alternatives to dangerous boat journeys.”
Australian Immigration Minister Chris Bowen said the new quota would make Australia the world’s second-largest refugee resettlement country after the US.