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Australia to Reinstate Island Detention Camp for Refugees

Refugee advocates applaud the law that they regard as a more humanitarian approach toward asylum-seekers.

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Australia, Refugee
FILE - A group of Vietnamese asylum seekers are taken by barge to a jetty on Australia's Christmas Island, April 14, 2013. VOA

The Australian government said Wednesday it would reopen a mothballed island detention camp in anticipation of a new wave of asylum-seekers arriving by boat after Parliament passed legislation that would give sick asylum-seekers easier access to mainland hospitals.

The Christmas Island immigration detention camp, south of Jakarta, Indonesia, was a favorite target of people smugglers who brought asylum-seekers from Asia, Africa and the Middle East in rickety boats from Indonesian ports before the trade virtually stopped in recent years.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said a security committee of his cabinet agreed to reopen the camp on Wednesday on the advice of senior security officials.

The decision was made before the Senate passed legislation 36 votes to 34 that would allow doctors instead of bureaucrats to decide which asylum-seekers on camps on the Pacific island nations of Papua New Guinea and Nauru can fly to Australia for hospital treatment.

Australia, Scott Morrison
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison addresses media at Parliament House in Canberra, Australia, Feb. 13, 2019. VOA

Morrison’s conservative government argues that the bill, passed 75 to 74 by the House of Representatives on Tuesday, will undermine Australia’s tough refugee policy. The policy banishes asylum-seekers who attempt to reach Australia by boat to the Pacific island camps in a bid to deter other asylum-seekers from making the perilous voyage.

“My job now is to ensure that the boats don’t come,” Morrison told reporters. “My job now is to do everything in my power and the power of the government to ensure what the Parliament has done to weaken our border does not result in boats coming to Australia.”

The legislation demonstrates the government’s weak hold on power and will put asylum-seeker policy at the forefront of campaigning ahead of elections that Morrison wants to hold in May. He has ruled out calling a snap election on the refugee issue.

Morrison said he would repeal the “foolish law” if his government were re-elected.

Australian governments rarely lose votes in the House of Representatives, where parties need a majority to form an administration. Legislation has only been passed in the House against a government’s will in 1929, 1941, 1962 and 2013.

The ruling coalition lost its single-seat majority when former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull quit politics after he was deposed by his party colleagues in August. Another lawmaker has since quit the government as part of the bitter fallout over the leadership change.

Refugee advocates applaud the law that they regard as a more humanitarian approach toward asylum-seekers.

The Senate passed similar amendments on medical evacuations despite ruling party objections on the last day Parliament sat last year.

Australian security agencies warned in December that if those amendments became law, asylum-seekers would likely head to Australia again in significant numbers.

The people smuggling boat traffic has all but stopped in the past five years with the government promising that any refugees who arrive on Australian shores by boat will never be allowed to settle there.

Opposition leader Bill Shorten on Tuesday re-drafted the amendments passed by the Senate in December in an attempt to make the law less likely to attract a new wave of asylum-seekers, who used to arrive in Australia at a rate of more than a boat a day.

Refugees
FILE – Refugees are pictured on Nauru, Sept. 4, 2018. VOA

The changes included a provision that only the 1,000 asylum-seekers currently held on Nauru and Papua New Guinea and not any future arrivals would be considered for medical evacuation under the new regime.

The government had struck a deal in 2016 for the United States to accept up to 1,250 refugees languishing on Nauru and Papua New Guinea. The government had similarly made the offer only available to refugees on the islands at the time to avoid attracting new asylum-seekers, Shorten said.

“I believe that we can keep our borders secure, we can uphold national security but still treat people humanely,” Shorten told Parliament.
Medical evacuations have become a loophole in Australia’s policy of exiling asylum-seekers who arrive by boat.

Hundreds of asylum-seekers who have been allowed into Australia for hospital treatment have received court injunctions that prevent their return to the islands.

Sick asylum-seekers often have to fight the Australian government in court for permission to be transferred to an Australian hospital.

Law firm Maurice Blackburn welcomed the law change.

“It should never have had to come to this point, but it is evident this bill was urgently needed to force action,” lawyer Jennifer Kanis said in a statement. “In the last year alone, we have had to take court action repeatedly to help secure the medical evacuation of 26 ill people on Nauru, many of these children.”

“In a number of those cases, the delay in accessing medical treatment risked life-threatening consequences for the children and adults concerned,” she added.

Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton said he expected more boats to head for Australia in treacherous voyages that sometimes end in tragedy.

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“There is no question that people smugglers will be hearing very clearly that the policy in Australia has changed,” Dutton said. “This puts Australia back on the map for people smugglers and Bill Shorten has that on his shoulders.” (VOA)

Next Story

US to Work with Australia, Canada to Cut Reliance on Chinese Minerals

Over 80 percent of the global supply chain of rare earth elements is controlled by one country

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US, Australia, Canada
FILE - Samples of rare earth minerals (L-R): Cerium oxide, Bastnasite, Neodymium oxide and Lanthanum carbonate are on display during a tour of Molycorp's Mountain Pass Rare Earth facility in Mountain Pass, California. VOA

The United States will team up with Canada and Australia to help countries around the world develop their reserves of minerals like lithium, copper and cobalt, the State Department said on Tuesday, part of a multi-pronged strategy to reduce global reliance on China for materials crucial to high-tech industries.

Washington grew more concerned recently about its dependence on mineral imports after Beijing suggested using them as leverage in the trade war between the world’s largest economic powers.

This would interrupt the manufacture of a wide range of consumer, industrial and military goods, including mobile phones, electric vehicles, batteries, and fighter jets.

“Over 80 percent of the global supply chain of rare earth elements — is controlled by one country,” the State Department said in a fact sheet outlining the effort, which it has dubbed the Energy Resource Governance Initiative. “Reliance on any one source increases the risk of supply disruptions.”

US, Australia, Canada
The United States will team up with Canada and Australia to help countries around the world. VOA

Under the plan, the United States will share mining expertise with other countries to help them discover and develop their resources, and advise on management and governance frameworks to help ensure their industries are attractive to international investors.

Doing so will help to ensure global supply for the minerals can meet world demand, which is projected to surge alongside the growing take-up in high-technology goods. “Demand for critical energy minerals could increase almost 1,000% by 2050,” according to the fact sheet.

Frank Fannon, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for energy resources, said in an interview that tensions with China show the United States should be producing more rare earth minerals and help others ensure a secure supply. “We need to do more and we are not alone in this,” Fannon said.

Canada and Australia, two major mining countries, were partnering in the effort and other allies could join later, a U.S. official said.

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Canada’s Ambassador to the United States, David MacNaughton, said Canadian officials have met with the State Department several times to discuss critical minerals and environmental issues around global mining and he looks forward to advancing the initiative.

Representatives of Australia did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The plan was first reported on Tuesday morning by the Financial Times.

The plan comes a week after the U.S. Commerce Department recommended urgent steps to boost U.S. domestic production of “critical minerals,” including by providing low-interest loans to mining companies and requiring defense companies to “buy American.”

US, Australia, Canada
Washington grew more concerned recently about its dependence on mineral imports. Pixabay

The Commerce report also recommended that U.S. agencies review areas that are currently protected from development and assess whether those restrictions should be lifted or reduced to allow for critical minerals development. (VOA)