Australia announces increase in refugee intake

Australia’s Prime Minister Julia Gillard has announced that her country will increase its intake of refugees from 13,750 to 20,000 a year, as recommended by the recent expert panel report on asylum seekers.

Last week the Parliament approved the re-opening of offshore processing camps for asylum seekers in Nauru and PNG.

Ms. Gillard said the move was meant to send two important messages to asylum seekers. “Message No.1, if you get on a boat you are risking your life, you are paying a people smuggler your hard-earned money and you are at risk of being transferred to Nauru or PNG.”

“But Message No.2, if you stay where you are and you have your claim processed by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees then there are more resettlement places available in Australia,” she added.

Immigration Minister Chris Bowen said it was important for Australia to “give people the very clear signal that there are better and safer ways available to pursue a better life in Australia, to flee persecution without taking the risky journey to Australia by boat.”

He confirmed that the increase in refugee intake was Australia’s biggest in 30 years.

“It will mean that Australia becomes the second largest source of resettlement for UNHCR-referred refugees in the world after only the United States,” Mr. Bowen said.

The key groups that will figure in the 20,000, Mr. Bowen said, “are Afghans, whether they be in Pakistan, Iran or Indonesia; Iraqi minorities including Assyrians, Chaldeans and Mandaeans in Syria, Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon.”

“Of course Sri Lankan refugees will continue to figure in our program, as will Burmese in Malaysia, Thailand and India, and a particular focus of course on continuing developments in Syria and Egypt,” Mr. Bowen said. “We’ll continue to work with the UNHCR on key resettlement outcomes for people from the Congo, for Eritreans and Ethiopians and other people in retracted situations in Africa.”

UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres last year praised Australia has having "one of the best refugee resettlement programs in the world".

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