Not A Single Interest In East Timor Refugee Centre

The Australian

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Not A Single Interest In East Timor Centre

Lanai Vasek, Paul Maley

IMMIGRATION officials have admitted that not a single country has
signed up to Julia Gillard’s proposal for an East Timor processing
centre, despite more than six months of furious diplomatic lobbying.

Immigration Department head Andrew Metcalfe indicated any future
negotiations would focus on countries that had traditionally
resettled migrants, such as the US, Canada and Nordic countries, and
not Southeast Asian countries.

Speaking at a Senate Estimates hearing, Mr Metcalfe gave evidence
suggesting the plan had received little traction in the region and
said the issues of a regional protection framework and processing
centre would be dealt with separately.

“I have made it clear that the regional protection framework is
progressed through the Bali Process and the Regional Processing
Centre is a bi-lateral agreement with East Timor,” he said.

“We have informed other countries, but we have not approached other
countries about establishing a processing centre . . . we are
briefing and keeping them informed about the proposal.”

Mr Metcalfe said a full ministerial meeting of the Bali Process would
meet “soon”.

The Bali Process involves 50 countries and is co-chaired by Australia
and Indonesia.

But following sustained questioning from opposition senators, Mr
Metcalfe conceded not a single country proposed to send refugees to
Timor nor take refugees that may be processed at the centre.

“Time will tell if these countries agree if it is in their interests
and if they avail themselves to specific measures,” Mr Metcalfe said.

“While Australia has a national interest it is of course open to
other countries if they want to take part.”

Opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison said Mr Metcalfe’s
evidence, tendered to a senate committee in Canberra yesterday,
suggested the government’s plans for a Timor centre had gone backwards.

“This proposal is to provide guaranteed resettlement in a western
developed country,” Mr Morrison told The Australian last night.

“By their own admission the only country that’s signed to it is
Australia . . . the only way people are going to end up in east Timor
is if they get on a boat and come to Australia.”

Mr Metcalfe said yesterday mass people movements would be a “21st
century problem”.

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