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Aquino blocks Australian off-load

MANILA (UCAN): “There is no agreement,” the president of The Philippines, Noynoy Aquino, told the Foreign Correspondent’s Club in Manila on October 27 in regard to an offer of AUD150 million ($825 million) to resettle permanently refugees and asylum seekers currently in Australian cold storage on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea and the tiny island state of Nauru.

Although he added that his government was still studying the proposal made by Canberra and taking it seriously, it is believed that initially he rejected the idea outright.

However, Canberra did not take the rebuff well and requested him to reconsider the idea, after it had taken the rather unusual step of referring the matter to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Geneva.

UCAN reported that the Australian minister for immigration, Peter Dutton, ignored several requests for comment.

This is the third attempt by Canberra to off-load refugees on a third country.

It initially tried Malaysia, but that was deemed unconstitutional, as it is not a signatory to the United Nations Convention on Refugees. Then a rather grubby deal was made with Cambodia, but volunteers to take up the offer were in short supply.

The Philippines, which is a signatory to the convention and has a good track record on refugees, is its third bid.

The coordinator of Jesuit social services in Asia, Father Mark Raper, commented, “The Philippines can hardly provide the counselling and community support that these people will now need. Many of the prisoners are severely traumatised by their prolonged incarceration.”

The Australian priest added that while The Philippines could provide temporary reception facilities, the new arrivals would also have to be offered freedom of movement, work and housing.

However, Aquino described the only service that his country is able to offer to refugees as being a transit point. “There are limitations as to how far we can assist,” he said.

Aquino added that there had been a general agreement that the refugees would move onto a further destination for permanent resettlement and that Australia had to recognise that his country already has a significantly bigger problem than the Land Down Under.

“We have challenges in meeting the needs of our people right now. We would want to assist, but there are limitations,” the Philippine president commented.

He described his country as not having the capacity to offer permanent relocation to refugees at this time.

Father Raper said that it would not enhance the reputation of The Philippines to connive with Australia on bringing the refugee convention into further disrespect.

He said, “It is time that Australia joined the world intelligently, creatively and openly in developing a package of policies that are realistic, generous, just and which can respond appropriately to the present and future movements of people seeking safety.”

The Philippines, Nauru, Papua New Guinea, South Korea, Japan, Timor-Leste, Tuvalu, China, Fiji, the Solomon Islands, Australia and New Zealand are the only countries in the Asia-Pacific region to have signed the 1951 convention on refugees.


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